Alexander Zverev says he was planning a holiday when he found himself two sets down to Sebastian Baez in the French Open on Wednesday.

Baez was on the verge of a huge win on Court Philippe-Chatrier, but Zverev roared back to win 2-6 4-6 6-1 6-2 7-5 and move into the third round.

It was the third time the German had come from two sets down to secure a victory, having done so at the 2019 US Open semi-finals and at the 2021 French Open.

Zverev, who saved match point, claims he was thinking about being on the beach when he was on the ropes at Roland Garros.

"I couldn't have played any worse [at the start], I just tried to find a rhythm and did that. I'm happy still being in the tournament right now," he said.

"I was planning my holiday in Monaco, where I was going to go and who I was going to with and that relaxed me, thinking about the beach.

"You just have to find a way. You talk about mental strength and the greats, like Rafa [Nadal], Roger [Federer] and Novak [Djokovic], they always find a way.

"I will never be at their level, but I'm trying to get closer to them."

Zverev spoke to Baez at the net following his victory, and asked what he said to the 21-year-old Argentine, he replied: "I told Sebastian this is the worst you will ever feel on a tennis court, right now at this moment.

"I know how he feels as I lost the US Open final from being two sets up and was two points away.

"Then the next season I won an Olympic Games gold medal, so you always get better. He is an unbelievably great kid and he will do a lot of unbelievable things in this sport."

Zverev will next face Brandon Nakashima, who has reached the third round in a grand slam for the first time on his debut in Paris.

The German will hope to sure up his game for that match, given he made 46 unforced errors against Baez - just one fewer than his opponent.

Novak Djokovic progressed to the third round of the French Open with a 6-2 6-3 7-6 (7-4) and progress to the third round at the French Open.

Reigning Roland Garros champion Djokovic needed just half-an-hour to wrap up the first set and looked on his way to a routine win after taking the second set with similar ease.

But Molcan, coached by Djokovic's former mentor Marian Vajda, rallied in the third set, breaking the world number one for the first time.

He forced deuce at 6-5 up on Djokovic's serve, but the 20-time grand slam champion reeled off two straight points to take the set to a tie-break.

World number 38 Molcan started the tie-break by putting Djokovic onto the back foot, forcing the Serbian to scamper across the baseline with some wonderful volleys. He saved the first of three match points with a superb drop shot, but ultimately his opponent had too much.

Djokovic, who struck 10 aces and 40 winners in  a match that lasted two hours and 16 minutes, will face Aljaz Bedene in round three.

Data Slam: Seventeen and counting for Novak

Djokovic, who has won the French Open twice, has now made it into the third round at Roland Garros for the 17th straight year, since making his second appearance at the grand slam back in 2006.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
Djokovic – 40/19
Molcan – 31/34

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
Djokovic – 10/0
Molcan – 4/2

BREAK POINTS WON
Djokovic – 4/8
Molcan – 1/2

Angelique Kerber clinched a career first at the French Open on Wednesday, winning her seventh match in a row on European clay.

Kerber, who has won three grand slam titles, headed to Roland Garros in form on the back of a victory at the Internationaux de Strasbourg.

The 34-year-old, whose last major title came at Wimbledon in 2018, is in the hunt for her first French Open title, which would complete the career Grand Slam.

While that may seem unlikely for the world number 17, she took a step closer on Wednesday by defeating Elsa Jacquemot 6-1 7-6 (7-2).

That sent Kerber into the third round at Roland Garros for the first time since 2018 and also saw her win seven successive matches on clay courts in Europe for the first time in her long career.

"When you've achieved everything, you just play for the love for the game," Kerber explained after her win.

"I love to play tennis, love to play here in front of you guys, love to play for the atmosphere and working really hard to play here, have the energy from the fans.

"I still love it, let's see how long I can stay here and play good at a high level."

Emma Raducanu has completed her "pretty positive" first year on the WTA Tour after exiting the French Open in defeat to Aliaksandra Sasnovich on Wednesday.

Raducanu made her WTA Tour main-draw debut last June as a wildcard at the Nottingham Open, which directly follows Roland Garros.

The Briton's stunning ascent could scarcely have been imagined at that stage, as she went on to enjoy remarkable, record-breaking success in winning the US Open later in 2021.

Subsequent progress has not been quite so smooth, and Raducanu's latest grand slam campaign ended in the second round against Sasnovich in Paris.

The 19-year-old appeared to be in command after taking the opener but collapsed to lose 3-6 6-1 6-1.

Yet speaking after the match, Raducanu reminded reporters her senior career is merely 12 months old, meaning she is still happy to focus on the positives rather than rue another upset defeat – the world number 12 ousted by an unseeded opponent.

"We were saying with my team this morning: it's pretty much a year anniversary since my comeback to competitive tennis," she said. "I was playing a Brit tour in Connaught [in May 2021].

"I think I have come a long way since then. I think I do really welcome going around the second time. I think this year was always going to be challenging for me to adjust, find my feet.

"There's always something new. Like I'm always asking where everything is. I have no idea where everything is. It's going to be a lot more familiar this time around.

"I feel like in the last 12 months, I have definitely grown a lot. On and off the court, I feel like I have probably improved, like how much I fight.

"I think that's one of my biggest strengths and even more so on the tour this year, and it's definitely opened my eyes to just how good everyone is and how much depth there is in the game.

"But I think that it has been a pretty positive year just because I have learnt so much, and I think that the amount of learning that I have kind of done outweighs any sort of result, to be honest."

That "learning" was the theme of Raducanu's post-tournament assessment, explaining she is now "taking it better" when she is beaten and will "just look at everything as a lesson".

She said: "I know exactly where I went wrong, where I can improve, where other people are better than me.

"To be honest, I am learning every single day, every single match, every practice.

"I would say that I'm at this level, but there are definitely aspects of my game that need to improve and catch up to where my current ranking is."

Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have paid tribute to the "charismatic" Jo-Wilfried Tsonga after the 37-year-old brought his 18-year professional career to a close.

Tsonga, who reached a career-high ranking of world number five in 2012, confirmed in April that he would retire at the culmination of his French Open campaign.

That duly came in the first round on Tuesday as he bowed out to world number eight Casper Ruud 6-7 (6-8) 7-6 (7-4) 6-2 7-6 (7-0).

He retires having won, according to Opta, 464 Tour-level matches since September 2004.

Tsonga is one of just three players, along with Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro, to have beaten Nadal, Federer and Djokovic while they were ranked world number one.

He is also one of three players, alongside Stan Wawrinka and Tomas Berdych, who have defeated Nadal, Federer and Djokovic at grand slams.

A video tribute was played on court after his defeat to Ruud, which featured messages from the sport's most iconic players.

Federer said: "I wanted to congratulate you on an amazing career and it was a pleasure to share the court with and play against you, even to lose against you!

"We had some great battles. Enjoy the moment in Paris with all your friends and family, in front of all your adoring spectators."

Djokovic added: "Jo is one of the most charismatic tennis players ever to play the game. I was very happy to share the court with him many times.

"We get along well and he's a really nice guy. He brought a lot of positive attention and popularity to our sport not just because of his dynamic game style, but also his charisma and his personality, so it's a big loss for professional men's tennis to have him retire.

"I wish him all the best, and he definitely should be happy about his career and his achievements. He's made his mark and his legacy in our sport."

Nadal said: "He is very charismatic. I've known him since we were kids; he is a good guy and I think he brings a lot of positive things to our sport so I'm sad to see him going but we are getting old so it's going to happen for everyone."

Speaking at a media conference after his defeat, Tsonga said he would now spend some time relaxing before focusing on the development of his tennis academy.

He said he will miss the adrenaline of playing on court, as well as how he was able to express himself completely when competing.

"It's adrenaline, to step onto a big court like this one," he said. "It's adrenaline you can feel when you have 15,000 people shouting out your name, supporting you on the court.

"This is what I'm going to miss – the contact with the crowd. And with those who have been supporting me for all these years.

"You know, in real life, it's sometimes difficult to be intense. You don't want to shock, you don't want to be too rude, you don't want to hurt somebody.

"You always try to act to be nice, to be sociable. But, you know, on the court, you can express your fever. You can express everything about you, and it's sometimes freeing."

Andrey Rublev is unsure what the best course of action is ahead of Wimbledon, but hopes tennis can "work together" to ensure the grand slam goes ahead, with Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic targeting history. 

Wimbledon was last week stripped of its ranking points by the WTA and ATP over the decision from The All England Club to ban Belarusian and Russian players – including Rublev – from competing.

That decision was made in the midst of Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

With ranking points now not on offer, several high-profile players, including former WTA number one Naomi Osaka, have suggested they may skip the tournament.

Rublev might have no choice not to compete at Wimbledon, unless The All England Club scraps the ban altogether, but he says it is of utmost importance that tennis comes together to find a solution.

And Rublev believes the very elite players – such as Nadal and Djokovic – will compete anyway, regardless of ranking points or prize money, as he suggested tennis owes the duo, along with fellow great Roger Federer.

He told a news conference: "I don't know, because I haven't talked with any player about it, especially top ones. I guess the top players, especially Rafa, Novak, they are not playing now for points or for money.

"They are playing to be the first in history who achieve this amount of slams. So they are playing for a different thing. That's why it's very important to work together, to keep this amazing glory that we are having now, because of these players.

"If we are not going to work together, we just destroy it. What Roger, what Rafa, what Novak is doing, they did all these years. 

"They are other players from another generation, and we have to respect this, and that's why somehow we need finally to defend each other. Players need to defend the tournaments. Tournaments need to defend the players.

"Like this, tennis will grow, grow, grow a lot, because now all the success of tennis is only because of these three players, because of Roger, Rafa and Novak."

Rublev came through his first-round match at Roland Garros on Tuesday, defeating Kwon Soon-woo 6-7 (5-7) 6-3 6-2 6-4.

However, the seventh seed lashed out after losing the first set, recklessly hitting a ball out onto the court as he approached his chair, before slamming a water bottle into the court in frustration.

"I was quite tight, and I had a lot of emotions and I tried to really control them," Rublev said. 

"I tried to understand the situation. Be positive. I was able to be quiet and just be positive basically until the end of the first set. Then, yes, I lost my mind for a moment, and of course I regret what I did.

"It's unacceptable to hit the ball the way I hit it. It's more, I don't know, better even, if I just hit the racquet on the seat, because the ball can affect – I mean, it's not about me – it can affect someone. That's when the problem comes.

"This is unprofessional from my side, and hopefully I will never do it again."

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga brought his 18-year professional career to a close on Tuesday, after his first-round loss to Casper Ruud at the French Open.

Tsonga, who reached a high ranking of world number five, confirmed in April that he would retire at the culmination of his French Open campaign.

For the 37-year-old, that was short-lived, as he bowed out to world number eight Ruud.

Tsonga gave it his all, taking the lead and forcing a tie-break in three of the four sets, but Ruud had too much and prevailed 6-7 (6-8) 7-6 (7-4) 6-2 7-6 (7-0).

That confirmed the end of Tsonga's long career. He bows out having won, according to Opta, 464 Tour-level matches since September 2004.

Tsonga is one of just three players, along with Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro, to have beaten Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic while they were ranked world number one.

He is also one of three players (also Stan Wawrinka and Tomas Berdych) who have defeated Nadal, Federer and Djokovic at grand slams.

Tsonga also became the first player since Guillermo Canas in 2002 to defeat four straight top-10 players at a Masters 1000 tournament when he triumphed in Toronto in 2014.

"It's tough for me and all the players that you're stopping. You've been an inspiration to me and so many of the other players, so thank you for the memories," Ruud told Tsonga after the match.

"[I have] so many good memories watching Jo on TV. He's such a great guy [and] nice person on and off the court. He's a good example of what a player should be."

Rafael Nadal has surpassed Roger Federer for match wins at a single grand slam after defeating Jordan Thompson in the first round at the French Open.

Nadal won 6-2 6-2 6-2 against the world number 82 on Monday, as he bids for a record-extending 14th title at Roland Garros.

The 35-year-old, 21-time grand slam champion has recorded 106 victories from 109 matches, excluding walkovers, at the French Open, only losing to Robin Soderling (2008) and Novak Djokovic (2015 and 2021).

Nadal's remarkable form in Paris means that he has now overtaken fellow great Roger Federer when it comes to winning matches at one of the majors.

Federer has tallied up 105 wins at Wimbledon, which the Swiss has won on eight occasions, last doing so in 2017.

Nadal, one of only three players to have previously won the French Open without losing a single set, will face wild card Corentin Moutet in round two, after the Frenchman defeated Stan Wawrinka – the 2015 champion – 2-6 6-3 7-6 (7-2) 6-3.

Rafael Nadal cruised through his first-round match against Jordan Thompson to make a strong start to his French Open campaign.

Nadal is in the hunt for a record-extending 14th title at Roland Garros and he turned in a dominant display on Monday, winning 6-2 6-2 6-2 to progress with ease.

It took Nadal a little over two hours to see off his opponent on Court Philippe-Chatrier and claim a 24th win of what is already proving to be a wonderful season.

Nadal, seeded fifth, controlled the match throughout, breaking twice in the first set, which he sealed at the first time of asking.

Thompson, the world number 82, conceded serve again at the start of the second set, and he was left hanging over the net in despair when Nadal turned defence into attack to deny the 28-year-old holding in his next service game.

A deft drop shot saw Thompson recover but Nadal was clinical when chances to break came, and he took all three on offer in the second set, though the Australian also grasped his only chance to do so.

Thompson salvaged the first three break points in set three but Nadal would not be denied, and he nosed into a 3-2 lead before breaking again to serve out for the match.

A stray shot into the net from Thompson wrapped up the win as Nadal – one of only three players to have previously won the French Open without losing a single set – made an emphatic start.

Data Slam: Nadal's incredible Roland Garros record

Nadal is the only player to have won the same grand slam title 10+ times, and of the 109 matches he has now played at Roland Garros (excluding walkovers), the 35-year-old has lost just three – once against Robin Soderling (2008) and twice to Novak Djokovic (2015, 2021).

Thompson, who made 29 unforced errors, seemed frustrated at his own performance, but he was taking on a true great of the game.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
Nadal – 27/21
Thompson – 14/29

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
Nadal – 1/0
Thompson – 5/1

BREAK POINTS WON
Nadal – 7/11
Thompson – 1/2

Naomi Osaka has become the first high-profile player to suggest they might miss Wimbledon after the grand slam was stripped of ranking points.

The WTA and ATP announced last week that they had stripped Wimbledon of ranking points after the All England Club decided to ban Russian and Belarusian players from competing at the season's third major.

That decision came in the wake of Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine, which was aided by Belarus.

Osaka made her return to the French Open on Monday - the former world number one withdrew from last year's tournament at Roland Garros citing mental health issues amid intense media scrutiny and having been fined for skipping press duties.

However, her return was short-lived as she suffered a 7-5 6-4 defeat to Amanda Anisimova in her first-round match.

Three-time grand slam champion Osaka, now ranked at 38 in the world, has ambitions to return to the top of the WTA rankings - and also said her dream match would be at Wimbledon. 

But, with other events around Wimbledon offering ranking points, Osaka is considering skipping the tournament.

"I'm not sure why, but I feel like if I play Wimbledon without points, it's more like an exhibition," she told a news conference.

"I know this isn't true, right? But my brain just like feels that way. Whenever I think something is like an exhibition, I just can't go at it 100 per cent.

"I didn't even make my decision yet, but I'm leaning more towards not playing given the current circumstances, but, you know, that might change.

"I do want to rack up more experience on the grass, and I know that the Berlin tournament is giving out points, so that would be a really good opportunity for me.

"Yeah, I think if I don't end up playing on grass this year, I really want to go hard on the hard-court swing, which is my favourite.

"I'm going to have to have some meetings about it."

One-time Australian Open semi-finalist Lucas Pouille became the first player to confirm he would boycott Wimbledon after the points penalty was announced.

Reflecting on her defeat at Roland Garros, Osaka said an ongoing Achilles issue had hindered her performance, though she is happy with how she played compared to the last time she faced Anisimova, in this year's Australian Open.

"I took a painkiller before my match, so I don't know. I still kind of felt it a little, which I'm going to see what happens when it wears off," Osaka said of her injury. 

"I kind of prepared myself to feel it, so that wasn't really the wearing part. It was just annoying to me because the last time I played her our serves were really important. And coming into this tournament I didn't serve a lot, because we wanted to wait until the last minute to protect my Achilles.

"So it is a bit disappointing, but I'm happy with how my attitude was, because the last match that we played in Australia I think I was getting a bit more upset with myself, so I think I progressed in that part."

Miami. That's where this started. Where Carlos Alcaraz and Iga Swiatek were both champions at the same tournament for the first time.

Expect it to become, if not the norm, a regular occurrence over the coming years. Like Serena and Roger, and like Pete and Steffi before them, Carlos and Iga could well become the tennis royalty that reign above all others on the tour.

The 19-year-old Alcaraz heads to Roland Garros with four titles on the ATP tour this season, while 20-year-old Swiatek has five on the WTA circuit. Those are both tour-leading figures, with Alcaraz triumphing in Rio de Janeiro, Miami, Barcelona and Madrid, while Swiatek has won in Doha, Indian Wells, Miami, Stuttgart and Rome.

It is a global game, and these two are world leaders, based on their recent form. The Miami Open was as recently as April, and now the French Open awaits.

Swiatek has shown she can win big in Paris already, storming to the title without dropping a set as the world number 54 in October 2020, against all expectations. Nobody, Swiatek included, saw that coming, but the emergence of Alcaraz has been longer heralded, and now that is happening too.


"Practically unstoppable". "An overwhelming favourite". What the greats say about Swiatek and Alcaraz

Martina Navratilova, who landed the French Open singles at the height of her career in 1982 and 1984, won 74 consecutive tour matches in the latter year. That puts Swiatek's current streak of 28 into some perspective, albeit the young Pole is just seven away from matching the longest run on the WTA circuit since the start of the year 2000.

According to Navratilova, the Roland Garros tournament starts with an obvious prime contender.

"It's Swiatek against the field," she said, describing the Polish player as an "overwhelming favourite".

"Clearly, the pressure is not bothering her," Navratilova added, as quoted by the WTA website. "She’s just embracing that. It's great to see – when you are the favourite, and you keep on winning."

When Novak Djokovic lost to Alcaraz in the Madrid semi-finals, the disappointed Serbian said: "He held his nerves very well. For somebody of his age to play so maturely and courageously is impressive."

This is greatness recognising potential greatness.

Rafael Nadal had been beaten by Alcaraz in the previous round and accepts there is a changing of the guard in motion.

"When adrenaline goes up, he's practically unstoppable," Nadal said of his fellow Spaniard, "but then in some moments he commits errors, but it's logical because he plays with a lot of risk. It's his way of playing, and in that sense I think he has the level to be able to win against anyone in the world."


Handling the pressure, in their own words...

Swiatek, a natural introvert, travels with psychologist Daria Abramowicz, and is learning on the move how to handle the pressures of life at the top. Winning her last five tournaments points to a remarkable mentality, with Swiatek now firmly established as the WTA number one.

"I already know that I did some great stuff this season, so I feel like I can just play freely and not think I have to win some tournaments, or I have to win some matches, or I have to save some points," Swiatek said in Rome.

"This year, the pressure that I always put on myself, it's a little bit lower. For sure the expectations around are higher, but I never had a problem to cut it off and not to think about it. Also I'm gaining experience at that. I think with more and more tournaments, it's going to get better and better for me to cope with all of that."

Alcaraz, who has become physically mightier in the past 12 months, appears to have the mental steel that a champion requires, albeit he has yet to win one of the four majors.

He is embracing the hype around his French Open prospects by encouraging title talk.

In Miami, he said: "This year, I think that people are going to think that I'm going to be one of the favourites to win Roland Garros, but I always said that I have a different view. I don't have it as tension; I have it as a motivation. I really look forward to going to Paris, to fighting for the grand slam, and I am really looking forward to showing my great level in a grand slam too."

After triumphing in Madrid, he went a step further, telling Tennis TV: "Yes, I think I'm ready to win a grand slam."


What can they achieve?

Alcaraz and Swiatek would not be the youngest champion duo in a single edition of the French Open – Michael Chang was 17 years and three months when he triumphed at Roland Garros in 1989, and women's champion Arantxa Sanchez was only three months older.

They would be the youngest champion pairing this century, however. Currently, the youngest winners at the same French Open in the 21st century are Nadal and Henin, who turned 19 and 23 respectively during the 2005 tournament.

World number six Alcaraz is a long way off number one in the ATP rankings, but at the start of the year he sat 32nd, an awful long way from sixth spot. He is skipping steps as he races up the ladder and seems destined for the top.

He sits third in the Race to Turin, which ranks performances in the calendar year rather than on a rolling basis and decides the line-up for the end-of-season ATP Finals. There, Alcaraz is closing on leader Nadal and just a sliver (3,490 to 3,460 points is the margin) behind second-placed Tsitsipas, who has played 11 tournaments to Alcaraz's seven.

For Swiatek to be champion, she must break the run that has seen eight different women crowned in the last eight years: Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams, Garbine Muguruza, Jelena Ostapenko, Simona Halep, Ash Barty, Swiatek and Barbora Krejcikova.

The men's singles has been rather more predictable over the same period, with Nadal winning five times, Djokovic twice and Stan Wawrinka once. Nadal in 2005 was the last teenager to scoop the men's title.

The last woman to truly dominate at Roland Garros was Justine Henin, who won four years out of five from 2003 to 2007.

Swiatek can make it two from three, and if she reaches the title match, it would be a brave person to back against her given she has won 16 consecutive sets in finals.

With her five titles already this year, Swiatek is one away from becoming the first woman to beat that total in a season since Serena Williams won seven in 2014.

She is a red-hot favourite, while Alcaraz is a serious contender. A repeat of Miami would shock nobody who has been paying attention.

As the Big Three of the men's game begins to break up, and the Williams sisters dot the i's and cross the t's of their careers, the future of tennis looks to be in secure hands.

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.

Rafael Nadal believes he can win a 14th French Open title despite other players arriving at Roland Garros in better condition, as he labelled the venue the "most important" place in his tennis career.

Nadal won a record 21st grand slam title when he recovered from two-sets down to beat Daniil Medvedev in a thrilling Australian Open final in January, and has won 13 of the last 17 editions of the year's second slam.

However, Nadal admitted he was "living with an injury" after falling to a third-round defeat to Denis Shapovalov at the Internazionali d'Italia earlier this month, and will need to overcome a tough draw to build on his fine record in Paris, with Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz both on his side of the bracket.

Ahead of his first-round clash with Australia's Jordan Thompson, Nadal insisted that while he was not the favourite to triumph at Roland Garros, he hoped to replicate his performance at the year's opening grand slam in order to give himself a chance.

"I just enjoyed all my tennis career to be where I am, and I always feel very privileged and lucky to have the chance to enjoy all the experiences that I am enjoying and I am living because of this sport," Nadal said.

"And here I am in Roland Garros, another year. It is a place I know well. It is a place that I consider the most important one in my tennis career, without a doubt, and with a lot of positive memories.

"Today, it looks difficult and there are players that are in better shape than me, without a doubt, that is true today. But you never know what can happen in the next couple of days.

"The same happened in Australia, and I put myself in a position to have a chance, and here is no different. Things can change quick, and the only thing that I can do is try to be ready if that change happens."

 

Pressed on the effects of the foot injury which troubled him in Rome, Nadal said he is feeling better, but maintained it was a case of managing, rather than curing, the pain.

"What happened in Rome is something that happened very often in my practices," he added. "I was suffering after that for a couple of days, but I feel better.

"The pain is there always. It's not going to disappear now. It's about if the pain is high and strong enough to allow me to play with real chances [of winning] or not.

"But in my case, is something that I live every day, so it's nothing new for me and is not a big surprise. 

"I am here just to play tennis and to try to make the best result possible here in Roland Garros. And if I didn't believe that this thing can happen, probably I would not be here."

Meanwhile, the stars appear to have aligned for Nadal, with his beloved Real Madrid facing Liverpool in the Champions League final on May 28 just a short journey across Paris at the Stade de France.

Nadal, a known supporter of Los Blancos who requested not to play at the same time as their semi-final win over Manchester City while competing at the Madrid Open earlier this month, revealed he has already made plans to attend the conveniently located contest. 

"Well, I am here to play Roland Garros more than anything else. But of course, I have my tickets already," he smiled.

Novak Djokovic is banking on experience being a telling factor after the defending champion was handed a daunting draw at the French Open.

To reach another final, Djokovic may have to get past 13-time champion Rafael Nadal in the last eight and in-form teenager Carlos Alcaraz in the semi-finals.

Djokovic described Alcaraz's rise to prominence as "a quantum leap", with the 19-year-old from Murcia having hurtled from 32nd in the world rankings at the start of the year to number six now.

Ahead of 35th birthday celebrations on Sunday, Djokovic is relieved to be back at a grand slam after being deported from Australia in January due to his stance on COVID-19 vaccinations.

He was also prevented from playing the Masters 1000 tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami, meaning his season has been heavily disrupted.

Ahead of a first-round clash with Yoshihito Nishioka in Paris, Djokovic can be seen to be in good physical shape and strong form, having won the Internazionali d'Italia title in Rome last week for a sixth time.

The bunching of Nadal, Djokovic and Alcaraz, widely considered the three most likely winners, in one side of the draw, caused a stir on Thursday.

Speaking 24 hours later, Djokovic described it as "a very tough top half", before assessing the qualities of Nadal, who has been battling injuries recently, and the fast-rising Alcaraz.

"Nadal always has to be right at the top, because of his records particularly in this tournament," Djokovic told a news conference.

"Then you have Alcaraz that obviously is the story of men's tennis in the last four or five months with a big reason. He's had some tremendous leaps forward on rankings and the results that he's been achieving are phenomenal for someone of his age."

Alcaraz has won a tour-leading four titles in 2022, including Masters 1000 events in Miami and Madrid, and Djokovic said: "He has made a quantum jump really forward in the last five, six months."

Djokovic and Alcaraz practised together on Friday on Court Philippe Chatrier, where they could be battling it out for real in two weeks' time.

The Serbian, one behind Nadal's record of 21 grand slam titles, added: "I feel I am always in that contention to fight for any grand slam trophy. I believe in my own abilities to get far and to fight for one of the most prestigious trophies in the world of tennis.

"As a defending champion of course more so, to believe I can do it again. Reliving the memories from last year is something that obviously gives me goose bumps and motivation to try to replicate that.

"I think that experience of being on the tour for such a long time helps [me] to know how to spend energy on the court match after match, bring out the right intensity, manage everything that happens off the court, as well, and peak at the right time."

Alcaraz has achieved all his title success in best-of-three tennis so far, so winning over the longer distance in a slam is the next challenge. This is where Djokovic has arguably been at his strongest.

"In best-of-five, obviously things are different," Djokovic said. "A grand slam I think awakens so much motivation and emotions in a tennis player.

"It's the dream of many tennis players to win a grand slam. That's why you cannot underestimate anyone and probably not compare the performances of those players on any other tournament with the potential performance here in a slam."

Roger Federer hopes to replicate fellow tennis great Rafael Nadal's "incredibly inspiring" recovery from injury when he makes his own comeback from knee surgery.

Nadal suffered from a recurring foot problem last season but returned to secure a record 21st grand slam title at the Australian Open in January, moving ahead of Federer and Novak Djokovic in the men's all-time list.

Federer has been out of action since losing in the Wimbledon quarter-finals last year, where he sustained another problem with his knee and subsequently underwent a third surgery in the space of 18 months.

The Swiss is yet to put a timeframe on his full ATP Tour return, although he is scheduled to play at the Laver Cup in September before playing the Swiss Indoors Basel event in his home city in October.

Federer, who turns 41 in August, referenced Nadal as he expressed his hopes to emulate the Spaniard's 20-match winning streak that he embarked on when returning from injury this season.

"It's incredibly inspiring when someone comes back from massive health problems," Federer told Caminada Magazin.

"Rafa and I talk on the phone from time to time, we talk a lot. I knew he wasn't doing great, but when he made it I was really happy for him. The effort is immense."

 

As for Federer's recovery, the world number 46 detailed the struggles he has to go through just to make it onto the court.

"As with a car, you have to turn a thousand screws until the engine runs smoothly," he added. "Today, mobilisation, stretching, and a warm-up in the morning take about 45 minutes. Then we drive to the plant. There follows a warm-up on the pitch, half an hour. 

"After that I eat, stretch, strengthen my ankles with tapes, then warm up again, do gymnastics and explosive speed exercises. Before I finally play, I took care of my body for two and a half hours.

"I don't post many pictures of the strenuous training because I was always convinced that it was a matter of course. Everyone trains hard. 

"I swore to myself that by the end of my career I wouldn't be completely broken. Later I would like to go skiing with the children and play football with my colleagues. That's why I'm doing rehab now – not just for tennis. Also for life after your career."

Asked when he will make his comeback, Federer added: "I can't even think that far. I'm waiting for the doctors' okay. I'm ready to give it my all again. 

"I feel like a racehorse scratching its stall and wanting to race. In the summer I hope to be able to hit the ground running. 

"I'm looking forward to coming home in the evening after the tough day of training and being completely exhausted."

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