French Open: Roland Garros stars to watch as young guns battle old guard for Paris glory

By Sports Desk May 21, 2022

Novak Djokovic returns to the grand slam arena, Carlos Alcaraz is threatening to follow in the footsteps of Rafael Nadal, and Iga Swiatek is suddenly unstoppable.

The French Open is rich in promise as the Roland Garros clay courts are swept in anticipation of the greats of tennis stepping out to begin their campaigns.

It has been the women's draw that has looked the most wide open in recent seasons, yet this year it is hard to look beyond Swiatek; however, the men's title battle promises to provide a sensational battle.

Here, Stats Perform assesses the contenders for the two main trophies: the Coupe des Mousquetaires and the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen.


KID INTERRUPTS G.O.A.T. RACE

Nadal took full advantage of Djokovic and Roger Federer being absent from the Australian Open, carrying off his 21st grand slam title to go top of the men's all-time list, one ahead of those two great rivals.

Federer is again missing, rehabbing after knee surgery, and the likelihood is he has played his final major already, but Djokovic is emphatically back. His confidence is surging once more, having taken a knock amid the drama of his deportation from Australia in January and being frozen out of the Indian Wells and Miami events due to the United States' COVID-19 rules.

A semi-final run in Madrid, where he lost a three-set monster to Alcaraz, was followed by Djokovic carrying off the Rome title for a sixth time when he saw off Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final.

Djokovic turns 35 on Sunday, as main-draw action gets under way in Paris, but he is the defending champion and firmly believes he can succeed again.

Assessing his prospects for Paris, Djokovic said after his Rome triumph: "With rankings and the way I've been playing in the last few weeks, I would rate myself as one of the favourites. I don't obviously spend too much time thinking who's going to win it or who might have the best chance. I always think about myself.

"I go there with the highest ambitions. I really like my chances. Best-of-five, you play every second day. It's a grand slam. It's different. Really, the grand slams are played different. You have to approach it differently. But the way I've been feeling on the court and off the court in the last few weeks, I really think I can go far."

The chief threat to Djokovic could come not from 'King of Clay' Nadal, but from the 13-time champion's fellow Spaniard, 19-year-old Alcaraz.

Bidding to become the first teenage winner of the men's title since Nadal, also 19, triumphed for the first time in 2005, Alcaraz arrives in Paris with four titles already secured this year, including three on clay in Rio, Barcelona and Madrid. The other title came on hardcourt at the Masters 1000 event in Miami, and Alcaraz has rocketed from 32nd at the start of the year to number six in the world rankings.

Many expect his grand slam haul to reach double digits, just like the Big Three he has grown up watching and learning from. The first slam must come somewhere, and it might well come in Paris in a fortnight's time.

Don't discount Nadal, but his form has been a shade unconvincing since coming back from a rib injury, while Tsitsipas looks the next most likely after winning on clay in Monte Carlo and finishing runner-up to Djokovic in Rome. The Greek has unfinished business in Paris, after the heartache of losing last year's final from two sets up.

 

IGA TO PLEASE? POLE GOES FROM SHOCK WINNER TO FIRM FAVOURITE

The first thing to point out is that the French Open women's singles title has been won by eight different players in the last eight years.

Iga Swiatek was a surprise champion in 2020, at the tournament that was delayed until the Paris autumn due to the pandemic. She was ousted by Maria Sakkari in the quarter-finals last year but returns on a roll, having won an incredible five consecutive tournaments.

The 20-year-old has won 38 of the last 39 sets she has contested, the odd one out going against her on a tie-break, and her winning streak has reached 28 matches. Since Ash Barty retired, nobody has been able to lay much of a glove on Swiatek.

If she wins the French Open, that run will reach 35 matches, equalling the longest run in the 2000s, previously achieved by Venus Williams during a glory run that saw her win events including Wimbledon, the Olympic Games and US Open in the year 2000.

Tunisia's Ons Jabeur has been spoken of as a possible challenger to Swiatek, but she was swatted away 6-2 6-2 by the youngster in the Rome final last weekend.

So who challenges the favourite? Even those who have been there and done that struggle to look beyond Swiatek. According to Martina Navratilova: "You can’t be any hotter than she is right now."

Navratilova told the WTA website: "She looks pretty unbeatable on any surface, particularly the clay now."

The last player to beat Swiatek was Jelena Ostapenko, in Dubai. Ostapenko, a surprise 2017 French Open champion, had a sizzling spell of form in February but has gone off the boil since. It might take someone of her hard-hitting nature to knock Swiatek out of her stride, though, so if Ostapenko can navigate the early rounds she becomes a real contender. The Latvian's career record against Swiatek? An impressive 3-0.

Who else? Simona Halep's coaching tie-up with Patrick Mouratoglou – Serena Williams' former coach of long-standing – has raised eyebrows and now it might be time for it to raise her results level too. Halep has won in Paris before, in 2018, so don't count her out.

Aryna Sabalenka, Sakkari, Paula Badosa. Such players come into the mix if Swiatek slips up, but there has been scant sign of that happening.

Related items

  • Djokovic overcomes Griekspoor to reach Geneva Open semi-finals Djokovic overcomes Griekspoor to reach Geneva Open semi-finals

    Novak Djokovic beat Tallon Griekspoor in straight sets in the Geneva Open quarter-finals on Thursday, teeing up a last-four meeting with Tomas Machac.

    Djokovic was pushed all the way in an intriguing opener, Griekspoor generating three set points only to fail to convert any of them.   

    The world number one immediately punished Griekspoor's wastefulness by breaking at the end of a back-and-forth service game, then proceeded to serve the first set out in comfort.

    Griekspoor would not get a second chance to make a contest of it as Djokovic took full advantage of an early break in the second set, serving at 81 per cent and winning 92 per cent of points behind his first serve from there as he cruised to a 7-5 6-1 win.

    Data Debrief: Age just a number for Djokovic

    Having turned 37 on Wednesday, Djokovic is the oldest semi-finalist in Geneva Open history.

    Now 14-5 for the year, he is the strong favourite to claim his first title of 2024. Flavio Cobolli will face Sebastian Baez or Casper Ruud in the other semi-final.

  • Nadal to begin French Open campaign against Zverev Nadal to begin French Open campaign against Zverev

    Rafael Nadal will begin his French Open campaign against fourth seed Alexander Zverev, as the 14-time champion approaches what will likely be his final tournament at Roland-Garros.

    Nadal has repeatedly said he plans to call time on his glittering career at the end of 2024, having struggled with hip and abdominal injuries in recent years.

    His 14 titles in the French capital are four more than any other man has won at a specific major, with Novak Djokovic triumphing 10 times at the Australian Open.

    The Spaniard, who has missed the last four majors, arrived at Roland-Garros on Monday and faces a tough opening assignment.

    He will face world number four Zverev – who won the Italian Open last week – for a place in the second round, where David Goffin or Giovanni Mpetshi Perricard awaits.

    Nadal faced Zverev en route to his last grand slam triumph at the 2022 French Open, the German being forced to retire due to an ankle injury over three hours into a gruelling semi-final matchup.

    Novak Djokovic starts his title defence against Pierre-Hugues Herbert, as he looks to fend off competition from Jannik Sinner for top spot in the ATP Rankings.

    Australian Open winner Sinner will face Christopher Eubanks first up, while third seed Carlos Alcaraz begins against a qualifier.

    Like Nadal, Andy Murray is likely featuring at the French Open for the final time, and he has been drawn to face 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka in a huge first-round encounter. 

    In the women's draw, Iga Swiatek starts her bid for a third straight French Open crown against either a qualifier or a lucky loser, with Naomi Osaka a potential second-round opponent if the former world number one can overcome Italy’s Lucia Bronzetti.

    Coco Gauff is on the same side of the draw as Swiatek, while second seed Arnya Sabalenka begins against Erika Andreeva in the other half, with Elena Rybakina her forecasted semi-final opponent. 

  • Birthday boy Djokovic eases into Geneva Open quarter-final with Hanfmann triumph Birthday boy Djokovic eases into Geneva Open quarter-final with Hanfmann triumph

    Novak Djokovic celebrated his 37th birthday by breezing into the Geneva Open quarter-finals after his comfortable straight-sets victory against Yannick Hanfmann.

    The world number one made light work of Hanfmann, who defeated Andy Murray the day before, after a 6-3 6-3 victory in Switzerland on Wednesday.

    Serbia's Djokovic saved nine of the 10 break points faced and won six straight games in the second set for a routine victory, responding emphatically after going 3-0 down.

    The winner of a last-16 meeting between Denis Shapovalov and Tallon Griekspoor awaits in the last eight for Djokovic, who triumphed with little trouble on his 37th birthday.

    Data Debrief: Age will not stop Djokovic

    Having watched rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal struggle for fitness in the latter stages of their career, Djokovic is showing no signs of slowing down before the French Open starts later this month.

    Djokovic will be aiming to become the second player in the Open Era to secure a Grand Slam Singles title after turning 37, along with Ken Rosewall at the Australian Open 1972.

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.