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.


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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.

 

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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.

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  • Tsitsipas reaches first grass-court final, Fritz and Cressy set up all-American Eastbourne showdown Tsitsipas reaches first grass-court final, Fritz and Cressy set up all-American Eastbourne showdown

    Roberto Bautista Agut stands in the way of Stefanos Tsitsipas and his first grass-court title.

    Making his debut at the Mallorca Championships, Tsitsipas sealed his maiden appearance in a grass-court final by cruising past Benjamin Bonzi 6-4 6-4 on Friday.

    The world number six has now reached four finals this season, having lost two of the previous three – winning on clay at the Monte Carlo Masters.

    It was the second meeting between the pair in as many weeks, with the Greek having also downed Bonzi at the Halle Open.

    And Tsitsipas now has a chance to warm up for Wimbledon in winning fashion.

    "It was a good match. I am very happy today," Tsitsipas said in his on-court interview. "I have played a final a week before a grand slam before. It was the year I made the final at Roland Garros, in Lyon.

    "It worked out pretty well to have that final and consistency of matches. It is different this time. We are talking about a different surface, so we will see."

    Tsitsipas has now claimed a tour-leading 39 wins this season, but standing between the 23-year-old and silverware is Spaniard Bautista Agut, who reached a 20th career final by beating Antoine Bellier 7-6 (7-5) 6-2.

    Like Tsitsipas, Bautista Agut is aiming for a second title of the season.

    At the Eastbourne International, two Americans will vie for the title after Indian Wells Masters champion Taylor Fritz saw off a tough challenge from Alex de Minaur while Maxime Cressy defeated home favourite Jack Draper 7-6 (7-5) 6-7 (2-7) 6-3.

    Fritz, who triumphed at Eastbourne in 2019 – similarly against an American, in Sam Querrey – but has found his best form hard to come by of late, also needed three sets to get the better of De Minaur, eventually succeeding 6-1 6-7 (5-7) 6-3.

    "It's amazing," Fritz said. "I was having a bit of a rough start coming back from injury to the grass season, and then I came here and the first day I was here I just immediately felt like I was playing good tennis again.

    "I just have a lot of confidence being here, obviously great memories, so I'm really excited to come back out and play for the title again."

  • Ostapenko set for Eastbourne title defence as Halep's suffers neck injury ahead of Wimbledon Ostapenko set for Eastbourne title defence as Halep's suffers neck injury ahead of Wimbledon

    Reigning Eastbourne International champion Jelena Ostapenko will go up against Petra Kvitova in 2022 Saturday's final.

    Ostapenko won as a wildcard in 2021, and the world number 14 confirmed her place in this year's showdown by overcoming Camila Giorgi on Friday.

    She is the first female player to reach back-to-back finals in Eastbourne since Caroline Wozniacki in 2017 and 2018.

    The Latvian, who is also going to compete for the doubles title, prevailed 6-2 6-2 and will now go up against Kvitova. The pair have faced off eight times previously, with each player winning four matches.

    It is Kvitova's first appearance in a final in 2022, with the former world number two – and two-time Wimbledon champion – having ended Beatriz Haddad Maia's winning streak.

    Haddad Maia won in Birmingham last week and Nottingham the week before, but her run came to an end at 12 matches, with Kvitova triumphing 7-6 (7-5) 6-4.

    "For me, a final after almost a year [without one] will be great, so I’m glad already," said Kvitova, who was a runner-up at Eastbourne in 2011 and last reached a final on grass in Birmingham four years ago.

    "Jelena loves to play here, obviously, we saw it, she has a really great game for grass."

    Meanwhile, at the Bad Homburg Open, 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu reached her sixth career final courtesy of a walkover against Simona Halep.

    The Romanian withdrew from the semi-final clash with a neck injury, which will worry the 2019 Wimbledon champion ahead of the season's third grand slam at the All England Club.

    "I am sorry that I had to withdraw today before my semi-final match," Halep said in a statement.

    "But unfortunately I woke up this morning with a blocked neck and this is not allowing me to perform to the best of my ability."

    Andreescu will face Caroline Garcia, who saved a match point before going on to beat fellow Frenchwoman Alize Cornet 7-6 (11-9) 3-6 7-5 to reach an 11th tour-level showpiece.

  • 'I can't say I disagree' - Shriver on Wimbledon's move to ban Russian and Belarusian players 'I can't say I disagree' - Shriver on Wimbledon's move to ban Russian and Belarusian players

    Former Wimbledon doubles champion Pam Shriver has said she does not disagree with the decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players from this year's tournament.

    Shriver landed 21 women's doubles grand slam titles, of which 20 came in partnership with Martina Navratilova, and 112 career doubles titles in all, and she also claimed 21 singles tournament wins.

    Russian and Belarusian players have been banned from this year's Wimbledon due to the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.

    Speaking to Stats Perform, Shriver – who won five women's doubles championships with Navratilova at Wimbledon – said while she did not like that it was a decision that needed to be made, she did not object to it.

    "War is messy, right? War is tragic. It's been a horror show for Ukrainian people," said American Shriver. "And there's a lot of Ukrainian professional tennis players that are just living through hell.

    "Obviously, the decision has been made to try and have the tightest of sanctions. So when you think about the industry of pro tennis, if we're going to have sanctions as well, then Wimbledon [should too], and I understand the UK government has put some pressure throughout the country to not do business with Russians during this time.

    "I wish they had never had to make the decision, but I think under the circumstances, I can't say I disagree [with it]."

    Shriver also said the decision from the ATP, WTA and ITF to remove ranking points from this year's tournament was "really unfortunate".

    However, she does not believe it will make Wimbledon seem like an exhibition, saying: "It's not an exhibition because of the prize money and because of the prestige of winning a Wimbledon title.

    "Those are actually the two main things. I think the points are third, and so you're missing the third most important aspect, but the prize money is huge, and [the tournament] will be just as prestigious as ever."

    As a result of the ban on Russian players, men's world number one Daniil Medvedev will not be in attendance at SW19, but Shriver does not think it will diminish the competition.

    "You know, maybe some years it would [be a problem that Medvedev is not there] but... you're going to have the number one seed being [Novak] Djokovic and number two seed being [Rafael] Nadal," she said.

    "When you have the player who has more majors than anybody else ever in the men's game at 22, Rafa, and you have Novak trying to win his fourth straight Wimbledon and his seventh overall and trying to chase Rafa's 22, I think that's going to hide the fact we don't have a number one.

    "It's going to be an unusual year to not have rankings one and two [Medvedev and the injured Alexander Zverev], but I feel like the names on the men's side, [Carlos] Alcaraz, [Matteo] Berrettini, [Hubert] Hurkacz got to the semis last year, the two Canadian guys [Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov].

    "I feel like there's still such great depth and with Rafa and Novak leading the way, it's fine."

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