French Open Begins with Most Competitive Field in Years

French Open Begins with Most Competitive Field in Years

For more than a decade and a half the French Open has been the exclusive purview of Rafael Nadal, the incomparable Mallorcan who has claimed 13 French titles since his reign at Roland Garros began in 2005. But times have changed. Nadal is 35 and beset by host of nagging injuries. Rival Novak Djokovic vanquished Nadal in four sets in a much-ballyhooed semifinal in Paris last summer, the first man to best Nadal twice at Roland Garros. But perhaps most notably, an ambitious young Spaniard named Carlos Alcaraz has etched his name on several tour trophies this spring and now leads a shortlist of contenders heading into Paris next week.

On the women’s side, the outlook is much clearer. Notably because we are witnessing one of the great runs of form in modern women’s tennis. Polish star Iga Swiatek has won 28 consecutive matches and five straight tournaments leading up to the French Open. She also ascended to World Number One following the shock retirement of Ashleigh Barty following the latter’s triumph at the Australian Open in January. But the French always features a few surprising results on the way to the trophy presentation and this year is unlikely to be any different, Swiatek’s sizzling record notwithstanding.

That said, let’s look at the top contenders for glory on the red clay at Roland Garros May 22 through June 5.

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The Men’s Side

Rafael Nadal: The King of Clay is recently recovered from a stress fracture in his ribs and is battling a chronic foot injury. Rafa won three titles to open the year, including an historic 21st major at the Australian Open in January. He defeated Alcaraz at the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells in route to the final where his run of 20-straight wins to start the season was ended by Taylor Fritz. Unfortunately, Nadal has been injury-riddled since then, only able to compete at the Madrid Open where he lost to Alcaraz and skipping the Italian Open entirely to recuperate for Paris.

Novak Djokovic: After being deported from Melbourne for being unvaccinated and being denied entry to various other ATP tournaments for the same reason, Djokovic made a shaky return to play in April with a first-round loss to Alejandro Fokina at the Monte-Carlo Masters. He progressed to the final of the Serbia Open before losing to Andrey Rublev, and advanced to the semi-finals of Madrid before being taken out by Alcaraz. Rome was a different story. The 20-time slam winner returned to stellar form with a week of outstanding play capped by a two-set triumph over Stefano Tsitsipas in the final to claim his sixth Italian Open.

Carlos Alcaraz: In the span of three days—in May and on clay—the 19-year-old Alcaraz defeated Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Alexander Zverev to win the Madrid Open. It was no fluke. Just this season, Alcaraz has won Masters 1000 events in Miami and Madrid and taken titles in Rio de Janeiro and Barcelona. The Spaniard is unsurprisingly excellent on clay and is in career-best form leading into Paris. He will no doubt be highly motivated to stake his claim as the heir to Rafa’s clay-court kingdom.

Stefanos Tsitsipas: The Greek comes to Roland Garros ranked fourth in the world, having just surpassed Nadal by reaching the final of the Italian Open. Tsitsipas infamously dropped a two-set lead in last year’s French Open final in succumbing to Djokovic. He fell again to the Serbian in Rome. But he ranks among the world’s finest clay-courters and is a clear threat for the title.

We should also add a note on Daniil Medvedev. Last year’s U.S. Open champion—derailing Djokovic’s historic run at the calendar-year Grand Slam—reached World Number One early this spring before sustaining a hernia. The achievement of reaching the summit of men’s tennis is particularly notable since no one outside the famed Big Four (Roger Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, and Andy Murray) had been ranked number one since 2004 (Andy Roddick), an 18-year stretch. A procedure to resolve the injury kept the current World Number Two out of competition since March. He returned this past weekend at the Geneva Open. It wasn’t pretty. Medvedev lost in two sets to Richard Gasquet, losing a swift first set before taking the second to a tiebreak. Given his lack of match play on clay, he won’t be highly rated in Paris.

The Women’s Side

Iga Swiatek: Swiatek is the best story in tennis alongside Carlos Alcaraz in 2022. The 20-year Polish play has won five tournaments in a row and 28 consecutive matches. That latter streak is the most since Justine Henin won 32 straight between 2007 and 2008. She has demolished key rivals in winning the Qatar Total Open in Doha, the BNP Paribas Open and the Miami Open (The “Sunshine Double”), Stuttgart Open, and the Italian Open, the last of which she won without dropping a set. She also arrives in Paris with the 2020 French Open trophy in her bag, her first grand slam title. This year alone she has beaten Paula Badosa, Maria Sakkari, Anett Kontaveit, Ons Jabeur, Aryna Sabalenka, Madison Keys, Emma Raducanu, Coco Gauff, Simona Halep, and Naomi Osaka.

Ons Jabeur: The 27-year-old Tunisian is in great form, securing a career-high of World Number Six heading into Paris. She defeated Jessica Pegula in the finals of the Madrid Open, becoming the first African player to win a WTA 1000 event. She also reached the finals in Rome before losing to Swiatek. Jabeur made it to the quarters at the Australian Open in 2020 and Wimbledon last year. She reached the fourth round at Roland Garros the last two seasons. But with her Madrid win on clay, she has announced herself as a contender for the French. Her mix of difficult spins and tactical drop shots makes her a troubling matchup for everyone she plays.

Simona Halep: A former World Number One, the Romanian has won two grand slams in her career including the 2018 French Open. She won the 2022 Melbourne Summer Set 1 before the Australian Open but hasn’t won since. Her results have been a mixed bag: two semifinals, a quarterfinal, a fourth-round and a first-round exit. She recently hired Patrick Mouratoglou as her full-time coach. Mouratoglou has coached Serena Williams since 2012.

Elsewhere, Spaniard Paula Badosa is currently ranked third in the world and can’t be overlooked. She reached the quarterfinals at Roland Garros last year and won this year’s Sydney International by defeating defending French Open titlist Barbora Krejcikova. (Krejcikova has since been sidelined with an elbow injury and will face steep odds in Paris.)

That’s the lay of the land and this year’s French Open will provide plenty of fireworks as the aforementioned stars vie for one of the most coveted titles in tennis. Catch all the action beginning May 22 through June 5.

How to Watch

The tournament will be televised on the Tennis Channel and NBC and DIRECTV will also have a mosaic channel (Ch. 901) featuring simultaneous coverage complemented by separate channels (Ch. 902-907) to see all the action. 

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