The French Open starts today… and surprises are possible
After Spain’s Rafael Nadal, the defending champion, decided to miss the French Open tennis tournament (Roland Garros) due to injury, which begins today, Sunday, on the clay courts in the French capital, Paris, a state of uncertainty prevailed that may not have been witnessed in men’s singles competitions in nearly two decades, but a new generation. Players led by world number one Carlos Alcaraz enjoy the rare opportunity. Nadal, who has dominated the claycourt tournament and won the title 14 times, first in 2005, is missing a thigh injury that has kept him out of action since the Australian Open. In the absence of Nadal, who has 22 titles in the four major tournaments, another Spanish star has emerged as one of the most prominent candidates to deny the veteran Novak Djokovic from winning the title for the third time.
The 20-year-old Alcaraz won Barcelona and Madrid but faltered in Rome and climbed to number one in the world rankings for the third time, a position he reached for the first time after winning the US Open last year. “A new generation has already arrived,” Djokovic said of the biggest hurdle on his way to his 23rd Grand Slam title and world record-breaking victory. Alcaraz is ranked number one in the world. He added, “Of course, he is doing a great job. Having new faces is also good for our sport. It’s normal. We have said for years that the moment of succession of generations is coming. He continued, “Personally, I am still trying to hold out with them. I am very happy with my career so far. I’m still hungry to keep competing. Let’s see where I get to.”
A year full of stops
Djokovic’s preparations for the second Grand Slam this season weren’t perfect in another year in which he stayed away from competition for refusing to get a Covid-19 vaccination, forcing him to miss the Indian Wells and Miami tournaments. He suffered an elbow injury that forced him to withdraw from the Madrid tournament, and suffered a physical problem in Rome, before losing to rising star Holger Rohne, who lost in the final to Daniel Medvedev. The two finalists confirmed that they are favorites to win the French Open. “If I pick one candidate, it would probably be Novak,” said Ronne, winner of the Munich Championship. But the competition is more open due to the absence of Rafa this year. Medvedev has shown good indicators on clay this season… Of course, he is one of the favourites.
The development of Medvedev’s level on clay courts, after he stated that he does not like it, comes in an impressive year for the player who previously topped the world rankings, who reached the final of six tournaments and won five final matches this season.
Medvedev, who reached the quarter-finals in 2021 and who speaks fluent French, is likely to enjoy great support from the French fans, who will celebrate the 40th anniversary of Yannick Noah’s title without high hopes of crowning a local champion this year.
Casper Rudd, the runner-up of the last edition, regains his brilliance after his poor form at the beginning of the season, as he won the Estoril Championship before reaching the semi-finals of the Italian Open, while Andrei Rublev, the Monte Carlo champion, will be among the competitors for the title. Stefanos Tsitsipas, who lost the 2021 final to Djokovic, continues his quest to win his first Grand Slam title after his previous attempt ended in a heavy loss at the hands of the Serbian player in Australia. Dominic Thiem, who reached the final twice, is seeking to benefit from his participation in the main draw directly thanks to Nadal’s withdrawal and to regain brilliance on his favorite ground after a poor performance since he underwent wrist surgery.
For women, the next batch of the three-way competition between world number one Iga Chiantik, Arina Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina in the tournament will witness a new phase of the struggle to grab the first place in the world. This competition is described as the next stage of the conflict between the “Big Three” in tennis in light of the urgent need for sports for such struggles, as this trio won seven tournaments between them this year. The three players also participated in six other finals, and each confirmed their status as favorites to win the second Grand Slam of the year, which begins today.
It is clear that the defending champion, Chiantique, who also won in Paris in 2020, is the favorite to win the title. With wins in Qatar and Stuttgart this year, after reaching the finals in Dubai and Madrid on clay, the 21-year-old three-time Grand Slam champion appears to have reached the pinnacle at just the right time. But her position at the top of the world rankings is in jeopardy as world number two Sabalenka broke the dominance of her opponent after winning three titles this season.
And the Belarusian player made a strong performance, coming from behind a set to defeat Rybakina in the final of the Australian Open, after winning in Adelaide as well.
Having struggled for confidence at times in the past, Sabalenka has added consistency to her weapons this season as she battles for the top spot in the world rankings. And while champion Chiantique has plenty of points to defend in Paris, the 25-year-old Sabalenka has never gone beyond the third round at Roland Garros.
She will top the world rankings if she wins the title or reaches one round more than the Polish player. After struggling against her last year and losing four straight times against Chiantique, Sabalenka has now won two of their last three meetings. More importantly, she also knows she can beat Chiantique on clay, having won the title in Madrid against them earlier this month.
However, the two players will also have to deal with the 23-year-old Rybakina, the world number four, who is eyeing her second Grand Slam title.