Open season for men at the Roland Garros | Tennis News - Hindustan Times

Open season for men at the Roland Garros

May 25, 2024 10:49 PM IST

With 14-time champion Nadal and Djokovic finally slowing down, many contenders bid to cash in at the French Open.

When it comes to Grand Slam tennis, it’s the women’s section that has often felt like a lottery over the past few years. There have been first-time Major winners aplenty, and dominance has tended to be surface specific. It’s been a far cry from the men’s tour, where members of the Big Three have continued to rule the roost.

Serbia's Novak Djokovic hugs Spain's Rafael Nadal during a practice session.(REUTERS)
Serbia's Novak Djokovic hugs Spain's Rafael Nadal during a practice session.(REUTERS)

However, heading into the French Open, it finally feels like the dawn of a new era beckons in men’s tennis as well. While Roger Federer’s career ground to a halt in 2022, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic went on to win nine of the 13 Majors between them over the last three years. But now, with Nadal struggling to find his best and Djokovic’s shocking dip in form, there’s no real favourite for the men’s singles title at a Grand Slam for the first time in 20 years.

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That this likely change of guard could happen at Roland Garros makes it all the more astonishing, for it is one Slam that had the clearest favourite for the better part of this century. But Nadal and Djokovic’s troubles are only half the story. The draw this time is wide open also because of how the other contenders have fared in recent months.

“Right now, I don’t see a clear favourite to win the tournament, but there is a wide range of players who can do it,” Carlos Alcaraz said in his pre-tournament press conference. The Spanish world No.3 has been touted as the next big thing on clay since last year, when he defended his titles in Madrid and Barcelona, but he’s had to cope with a right forearm injury since winning at Indian Wells in March.

There’s no denying that when fit, Alcaraz can thrive on clay with his speed, power and creativity. But there’s a big question mark over his preparation this time as it’s been more than a month since he played competitively. Among the build-up tournaments for Roland Garros, he only competed in Madrid and lost in the quarter-finals to Andrey Rublev.

“Honestly, I came here with not as many matches as I wanted, but I’m focusing on the practice,” said Alcaraz, who won Wimbledon in 2023 and the US Open the year before that. “I don’t think I need too many matches to get my 100 percent. I’m not feeling any pain in the practices when I step on the court. But I’m still thinking about it when I am hitting forehands. Probably I’m gonna say I’m a little bit scared about hitting every forehand 100 percent. So, I have to change it in my first match.”

Italian Jannik Sinner, the other next-gen star, finds himself in a similarly uncertain boat. It’s fair to say that clay has been the weakest surface in his young career as he’s won just one title on it (Umag, 2022), but his confidence and reputation grew a great deal this year with some fine performances.

The 22-year-old had his breakthrough Grand Slam win at the Australian Open, following that up by winning the Rotterdam and Miami titles. He then reached the semi-finals in Monte Carlo and the quarters in Madrid, but has been hampered by a right hip injury since. The Italian, who skipped his home Masters in Rome, said his hip feels good now and the last tests he did were positive.

“For sure, the general physical shape is not where I want it to be, but we cannot make miracles happen in less than 10 days before the first round,” said Sinner. “Most importantly, it’s going to be the mental side. Of being mentally ready and accepting things that could happen on the court, and then we’ll see what I can do.”

Among the other hopefuls are Casper Ruud, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev. Ruud has been a consistent performer on clay, having reached the French Open final the last two years, and won 10 of his 11 career titles on the red dirt. Tsitsipas too has been a Roland Garros runner-up (2021), and he won the Monte Carlo title this year. Zverev, who reached the semi-finals in Paris the last three years, will be high on confidence after last week’s Italian Open triumph. The German will feature in the marquee first-round clash as he faces Nadal on Monday.

Although there are several contenders, there is no clear favourite. And that makes this year’s French Open a fascinating prospect.

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