Naomi Osaka, Carlos Alcaraz bring curtain up on French Open 2024 | Tennis News - Hindustan Times
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Naomi Osaka, Carlos Alcaraz bring curtain up on French Open 2024

AFP |
May 26, 2024 08:27 AM IST

Alcaraz, the reigning Wimbledon champion, begins his campaign against J.J. Wolf of the United States, a lucky loser from qualifying.

Naomi Osaka and Carlos Alcaraz bring the curtain up on the French Open on Sunday as Roland Garros prepares to bid a likely farewell to Rafael Nadal.

Spain's Carlos Alcaraz returns the ball to Russia's Andrey Rublev during the 2024 ATP Tour Madrid Open tournament quarter-final tennis match at Caja Magica in Madrid (AFP)
Spain's Carlos Alcaraz returns the ball to Russia's Andrey Rublev during the 2024 ATP Tour Madrid Open tournament quarter-final tennis match at Caja Magica in Madrid (AFP)

Osaka, a four-time major winner who has yet to get past the third round in Paris, is first up on the showpiece Court Philippe Chatrier against Italy's Lucia Bronzetti.

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Alcaraz, the reigning Wimbledon champion, then begins his campaign against J.J. Wolf of the United States, a lucky loser from qualifying.

Andy Murray and his fellow three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka will close proceedings in the night session.

Japanese star Osaka, a former world number one, has endured a bittersweet relationship with the French capital.

In 2021, she was fined for opting out of mandatory media commitments before withdrawing from the tournament in order to protect her mental health.

A year later, she fell in the first round before leaving the sport in September 2022 for 16 months to start a family.

"I'm learning a lot of lessons through motherhood, and I hope that I can remember to apply them on the tennis court," said the 26-year-old.

Should she get past 48th-ranked Bronzetti, she will then likely run into top seed and defending champion Iga Swiatek.

Now up to 134 in the world after being outside the top 800 in January, Osaka is gradually learning to appreciate the demands of clay where it is harder to simply hit her opponents off the court.

- 'Like a dance' -

"Just observing other players more, watching how they play, watching how they move. I think the clay court is a little bit like a dance," she said.

World number three Alcaraz made the semi-finals last year where he was defeated by Novak Djokovic, revealing later that the prospect of facing the world number one had caused so much tension that his body cramped up during the match.

Wolf, ranked at 107, has won just one match on the tour in 2024. His only other main draw appearance at the French Open ended in a first-round exit last year.

Wawrinka, the 39-year-old 2015 champion, and 2016 runner-up Murray meet for the 23rd time, a rivalry which has included two semi-final clashes in Paris.

Murray is playing his final season on tour but whether or not 14-time champion Nadal joins him in retirement later this year remains to be seen.

Nadal, who will be 38 on June 3, revealed Saturday that he hasn't committed himself to retiring and wanted to "100% keep the door open".

He missed the tournament in 2023 with injury and his 2024 appearance may be brief after he was drawn to face fourth-ranked Alexander Zverev on Monday.

"It's a big, big chance that this is going to be my last Roland Garros, but if I have to tell you it's 100% my last Roland Garros, sorry, but I will not. I cannot predict what's going on," Nadal said Saturday.

The Spanish legend has racked up 112 wins in 115 matches at the tournament since his title-winning 2005 debut when he was just 19.

- 'Feel better now' -

He has 22 Grand Slam titles -- second only to Djokovic's 24 on the all-time men's list -- but his career has been plagued by injuries.

Nadal has played just four tournaments since January last year after suffering a hip injury and then a muscle tear.

As a result, his ranking has slumped to 276 in the world and he comes into the French Open unseeded.

"I have been going through a long process of recovery with a very difficult injury, almost two years of suffering, but I feel better now," he added.

“I have fewer limitations than three, four weeks ago, without a doubt.”

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