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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Tuesday May 17, 2022


The clay court season will come to a dramatic conclusion over the next few weeks as Roland-Garros plays out for all the world to see.

Tennis Express

As always, intrigue is on high, with multiple storylines developing over the last month in Europe, including the remarkable winning streak of Iga Swiatek, the return to form of Novak Djokovic, the rise of Carlos Alcaraz and the injury difficulties of Rafael Nadal.

Road to Roland Garros: A Look Back at the Champions

WTA

EVENT | Champion

Charleston | Bencic
Bogota | Maria
Stuttgart | Swiatek
Istanbul | Potapova
Madrid | Jabeur
Rome | Swiatek

ATP

Houston | Opelka
Marrakech | Goffin
Monte-Carlo | Tsitsipas
Barcelona | Alcaraz
Belgrade | Rublev
Munich | Rune
Estoril | Baez
Madrid | Alcaraz
Rome | Djokovic

Here are some things we’ll be looking forward to ahead of Thursday’s draw ceremony.

Will Nadal be Healthy?

Nadal is back on the practice courts with plans to arrive in Paris on Wednesday. The Spaniard knows how to deal with his chronic injury – now it’s just a question of whether he can get his body to behave well enough for him to make progress on the court over the course of the tournament. It will be a challenging week for Nadal, but he remains hopeful that he can push through.

Stay tuned....


Can anybody slow Iga Swiatek down?

The Pole will enter Roland-Garros as the clear favorite, riding a remarkable 28-match winning streak. It will be a brand new scenario at a Grand Slam, to be thrust into the spotlight with everybody expecting her not just to win the tournament, but to dominate it.

If anybody can handle it, the soon to be 21-year-old Swiatek can. She has proven over the last four months that she is ripe for tackling any challenge, mentally or physically, and she even managed her schedule quite well, skipping Madrid to rest a few weeks back. She should be raring to go when play gets underway next week.


If Not Nadal, then who?

The 13-time champion is the No.3 favorite in Paris, which means that Novak Djokovic, the champion in Rome, and Carlos Alcaraz, the biggest story on the men’s side in 2022, are the No.1 and No.2 favorites.

Djokovic says he feels “perfect” after winning Rome, and his confidence will no doubt be bolstered. 19-year-old Alcaraz, meanwhile, has repeatedly stated that he believes he is ready to win a Slam now. He’ll get that opportunity in Paris and all eyes will be on him. After becoming the youngest ever champion at Rio, Miami, Barcelona and Madrid, expectations are off the page for the rising Spaniard.


Slide down the rankings and stop at No.4. There sits Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, who leapfrogged Nadal in Monday’s rankings, which means that he’ll be the fourth seed in Paris. This is big news for Tsitsipas because it means he’ll be able to avoid playing anybody in the top-3 before the semis. Given that Nadal and Alcaraz lurk as the No.5 and No.6 seeds, the draw will matter greatly to Tsitsipas’ chances (especially when we consider his 0-3 record against Alcaraz, and the fact that has lost six matches in succession against Djokovic).

Beyond that we have plenty of depth in the Top-20, including Casper Ruud, Andrey Rublev, and even Daniil Medvedev, who will make his return this week in Geneva after undergoing a hernia surgery last month. Many discredit Medvedev’s game on clay, but he has improved a lot over the years and did reach the quarterfinals in Paris last year.

If not Swiatek, then who?

Since Ash Barty’s retirement announcement, before the Miami Open in late March, Iga Swiatek has done well to increase the gap between herself and the rest of the field. But there are some standouts not named Swiatek inside the WTA’s Top-20.

Ons Jabeur’s name comes to mind first. She won Madrid and reached the final at Rome, and is 17-3 on the clay in 2022. Paula Badosa and Maria Sakkari love the slow-playing surface at Roland-Garros and could make a push. Aryna Sabalenka is rounding into form after a sheepish start to the season and could be dangerous.

Garbine Muguruza is a former champion, hungry to prove that she can still do damage at her favorite Slam. There’s also Coco Gauff, ever dangerous, and Simona Halep, still searching in the early stages of her pairing with coach Patrick Mouratoglou, hungry for form but with a stellar pedigree.

The depth of the tour remains impressive, and if Swiatek falters, there will be a mad rush to the business end of the draw in Paris, with much depending on the way the draw breaks on Thursday.

Youth on the rise, ATP

Alcaraz is the first name that springs to mind when we talk about generation next on the men’s side. But he isn't the only one. The tour is transitioning at the moment and players like Holger Rune, now ranked at a career-high 40 and a title winner in Munich, and Jannik Sinner, ranked 12th, are angling to be a big part of the conversation in Paris.

Let us not forget Jenson Brooksby and Sebastian Korda, a pair of 21-year-old Americans that have taken a liking to the clay, or Lorenzo Musetti, the 20-year-old Italian that took the first two sets off of Novak Djokovic in the round of 16 last year in Paris.

Alcaraz is at the top of the list, but expect the youth of the ATP to make some big strides in Paris.

Youth on the rise, WTA

There are seven teenagers inside the WTA’s Top-100 at the moment, many of which could make a splash in Paris. Emma Raducanu is at the top of the list ranking-wise, and even if injuries have slowed her progress in 2022, her Roland-Garros debut should be interesting. Hard to believe that she’s entered in just her fourth Grand Slam main draw.

Coco Gauff is far more experienced. The 18-year-old is into her 11th Grand Slam main draw and she broke through to reach her first major quarterfinal last year in Paris. Could she go even further in 2022?

Leylah Fernandez, Clara Tauson and Marta Kostyuk, a trio of talented 19-year-olds could also be difference makers next week at Paris.

No Feli for the first time in a long time

Spain’s Feliciano Lopez lost in qualifying in Paris, meaning that the Spaniard's incredible streak of consecutive Grand Slam main draws played will end at 79. Lopez, 40, had played every Grand Slam main draw since 2002 in Paris.

On the women’s side, AlizΓ© Cornet will play her 61st consecutive Grand Slam – the Frenchwoman, ranked 40, is just one shy of tying Ai Sugiyama’s all time record for consecutive women’s singles Grand Slam main draws played.


 

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