Without 14-time champion Rafael Nadal, the French Open will have a much different feel than at any point in the last 20 years. Nadal’s remarkable success at Roland Garros, where he compiled a 112-3 record, made him the instant favorite regardless of form or other question marks about his health.
But with Nadal unable to play and hoping to be ready for a farewell tour in 2024, the men’s title is there for the taking. Sort of.
Likewise, on the women’s side, there are health questions surrounding two-time champion Iga Swiatek, who would have been a huge favorite had she not suffered some type of thigh injury last week during the Italian Open. Now, the draw seems a bit more wide open. Again, sort of.
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Here’s what you need to know about the 2023 French Open:
Novak Djokovic-Carlos Alcaraz showdown looming
It appeared that everything was set up for 20-year old Carlos Alcaraz and 22-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic to meet in the finals in one of the most anticipated generational clashes in the history of the sport.
However, Daniil Medvedev shook everything up by winning the Italian Open, allowing him to get the No. 2 seed and pushing Djokovic down to No. 3. Because of the stratified draw system, that meant Djokovic could have ended up in either half − and he ended up paired with Alcaraz, which means they’d meet in the semifinals instead.
Alcaraz, who won his first major title at the U.S. Open last year, looked even more dominant this spring going back-to-back on clay in Barcelona and Madrid. He then suffered one of the more shocking losses of the season in Rome to 135th-ranked Fabian Marozsan, but a little more time to rest should serve him well going into Roland Garros.
Djokovic’s form has been a bit more questionable since clay season began. He followed a round-of-16 loss to Lorenzo Musetti in Monte Carlo with a loss to Dusan Lajovic at a smaller tournament in Bosnia, then got bullied by 20-year old Holger Rune in Rome.
Whether it’s rust or an elbow injury he’s been struggling with, Djokovic is going to have to play his way into top form through the first week of the tournament if he even wants to reach a matchup with Alcaraz.
Who are the other French Open men’s contenders?
Though the tournament seems a little bit more open without Nadal around, the list of serious contenders is actually pretty short.
Medvedev is an interesting case. He has been very public over the years about his distaste for clay, but he can grind out long points with the best of them and has actually played quite well on it this year, including his first title on the dirt in Rome. He’s credited the change to new shoes that have helped with his movement and a string change that has given him a bit more power to hit through the court. It should also help him that a lot of the other likely contenders, including Djokovic, 2021 finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas and Monte Carlo champion Andrey Rublev are on the opposite half of the draw.
The biggest threats to Medvedev in his half would seemingly come from No. 8 seed Jannik Sinner, who is 0-6 in his career against the Russian, or Rune, whom Medvedev just defeated in the Rome final. There’s also No. 4 seed Casper Ruud, who lost to Nadal in last year’s final, but hasn’t been playing as well in 2023 as he did a year ago.
What about Americans at the French Open?
Unsurprisingly, it hasn’t been a great clay season for the top American men. Taylor Fritz, the No. 9 seed, made the semis in Monte Carlo but has only been beyond the second round in Paris once in six tries. Frances Tiafoe, who is close to breaking into the top-10, won a red clay event in Houston against a pretty soft field but has gone just 2-3 in Europe. Tiafoe has a good chance to reach the third round, where he would likely play Alexander Zverev, who has made steady progress since returning from a major ankle injury he suffered against Nadal in last year’s semifinal. Ben Shelton, the 20-year old who made the quarters at the Australian Open, has unsurprisingly had a difficult time in his first go-round on clay with a 4-7 record. He got a tough first-round matchup with Lorenzo Sonego, a former top-25 player who is very capable on this surface.
How healthy is Iga Swiatek?
If she’s fully fit, it’s hard for anyone to touch Swiatek on clay. Her heavy topspin strokes are just devastating on that surface, and the slower bounce gives her enough time on the ball to manipulate opponents until there’s an opening to hit a winner. But if her movement is compromised by the thigh injury, it could be a difficult path, starting with Marie Bouzkova in the third round or former French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova in the round of 16.
Whereas Switaek was kind of in a class by herself last year, she’s had two legitimate challengers rise up recently in Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka and last year’s Wimbledon winner Elena Rybakina.
In particular, the powerful game of Rybakina looks dangerous right now coming off a win in Rome. With two finals in her last three Slams (she lost to Sabalenka in Australia) plus finals of Miami and Indian Wells earlier this year, she’s a threat everywhere she plays.
What happened to Coco Gauff?
When she made the finals a year ago, it looked like 19-year old Coco Gauff was about to take off. But Gauff’s form this year has been a bit concerning despite her No. 6 world ranking. After decisive losses to Swiatek and Sabalenka on hard courts early in the season, she’s had just a 4-4 record in her last four tournaments. The big issue with Gauff is her forehand, which has always been a question mark but has been a real liability in recent weeks.
It should help Gauff to get back to Paris, where the vibes are good and the conditions are more favorable given her elite movement around the court. But her draw, on paper, is tough having landed in Swiatek’s quarter. There’s no guarantee Gauff will even get that far. Not only could she have to deal with Rome finalist Anhelina Kalinina in the third round, but might face Veronika Kudermetova in the fourth round. They played a match last month on clay in Stuttgart that was decided by a third set tiebreaker.
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