The 2023 French Open gets underway at Roland Garros in Paris on Sunday without defending champion Rafael Nadal and with two-time winner Novak Djokovic struggling with form and fitness.
AFP Sports looks at three talking points in the men’s singles:
– Nadal absence and end of era –
Rafael Nadal, an ever-present in Paris since his title-winning debut in 2005, will be absent from the French Open where he has been champion on 14 occasions. Failure to recover from a hip injury suffered at the Australian Open in January has also forced the soon-to-be 37-year-old to admit that 2024 will likely be his last year on tour.
This French Open will be the first since 1998 that has not featured either Nadal or the now retired Roger Federer.
Novak Djokovic, the man responsible for two of Nadal’s three losses in 115 matches at the tournament, would usually step into the role as title favourite.
However, Djokovic has been bothered by a recurrence of a right elbow injury which has disrupted his clay court season. He failed to get past the last-eight at any of the three clay events he played this spring.
He has also lost his world number one spot to Carlos Alcaraz and will arrive in Paris ranked at three in the world behind Daniil Medvedev who succeeded him as Italian Open champion at the weekend.
“I know I can always play better. Definitely am looking forward to working on various aspects of my game, of my body, hopefully getting myself in 100 percent shape. That’s the goal,” said Djokovic after losing to Holger Rune in the quarter-finals in Rome.
Djokovic was bothered by a thigh problem earlier this year but still swept to a 10th Australian Open and 22nd Grand Slam title, taking him level with Nadal on the all-time list.
– Alcaraz, Rune in generational shift –
When Nadal won his first French Open title in 2005, compatriot Carlos Alcaraz had only just turned two.
Eighteen years later, Alcaraz is world number one and the reigning US Open champion.
After missing the Monte Carlo Masters with a spinal injury, he raced away with the Barcelona and Madrid clay titles before his confidence received a surprising dent at the hands of 135th-ranked Fabian Marozsan in the last 32 at a wet and chilly Rome.
“I really need some days to reset my mind a little bit, to be fresh for Roland Garros,” said Alcaraz who will be top seed at a Slam for the first time.
Alcaraz made the quarter-finals last year as did Holger Rune who arrives in Paris at a career-high six in the world.
Rune captured the clay title in Munich this spring and was runner-up in Monte Carlo and Rome, losing to Medvedev in the final having knocked out Djokovic in the last-eight.
Despite his baby-faced looks, Rune does not shy away from controversy – after his loss to Casper Ruud at Roland Garros last year, he accused the Norwegian of “lacking respect” while Ruud advised the Dane “to grow up”.
– French wait reaches 40 years –
Back in 1983, Yannick Noah won the French Open, stunning defending champion Mats Wilander in straight sets in the final. He remains the last Frenchman to win his home Slam.
No French player has made the men’s singles final since Henri Leconte 35 years ago.
There have been agonising near-misses with Gael Monfils reaching the semi-finals in 2008 and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga making the last four in 2013 and 2015.
This year, however, the highest-ranked Frenchman in the draw will be Ugo Humbert at 38 in the world.