Nadal’s successor? A new ‘big three’? A very open Roland Garros-News

Dates: 28 May-11 June Location: Roland Garros, Paris
Access: Latest commentary and radio coverage of selected matches on BBC Radio 5 Sports Extra, the BBC Sport website and programme

For the first time in nearly 20 years, the French Open kicks off this weekend with heightened interest.

With 14 men’s champion Rafael Nadal absent due to injury and two-time women’s champion Everyone Swiatek not having the same authority as last year, the details of the singles winners are very difficult to predict with certainty.

Nadal’s absence for the first time in 19 years will be felt by organizers and fans alike, but his departure has re-opened the men’s rankings and fueled them to win again.

And an injury scare for Swiatek, whose status as WTA number one has been challenged Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina, and pages that pull open.

Cameron Norrie, seeded 14th, he leads Britain’s interest in a position where the country’s players have had little success this century. Neither Andy Murray or Emma Raducanu will appear at Roland Garros and no British women will qualify as singles.

The clay court tournament will start on 28 May, ending with the final on 10 and 11 June.

Alcaraz to take Nadal’s crown? Or Djokovic to win the 23rd title?

Although nothing in the game is guaranteed, Nadal lifting the Coupe des Mousquetaires is very close.

Not this year. Nadal, who has lost just three of his 115 matches at Roland Garros and is known as the ‘King of Clay’, is out with a long-term hip injury.

Before announcing last week that the 36-year-old they couldn’t talk, Nadal had already fallen behind the Spanish number one Carlos Alcaraz and a 22-time Serbian champion Novak Djokovic as a favorite in the eyes of many viewers.

Following a strong start to the season, Alcaraz is expected to become the fifth man since 2005 to claim the title.

After missing the Australian Open with an injury, the 20-year-old US Open champion came back to win four of his six matches – Buenos Aires, Indian Wells, Barcelona and Madrid, while also reaching the finals in Rio de Janeiro and the Miami semi-finals.

Alcaraz wants to do what Nadal, Djokovic, Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka have done since 2005 – win the men’s titles at Roland Garros.

Back-to-back stints at Barcelona and Madrid helped extend Alcaraz’s record to 20 wins in 21 matches on clay this season. Then came an unexpected change in Rome.

Alcaraz lost to Hungarian player Fabian Marozsan in the Italian Open last 32 and showed a failure not seen in previous weeks.

Djokovic has won five of his last seven Grand Slam singles matches and knows that a third win at Roland Garros will put him ahead of Nadal for most men’s singles titles.

But his preparation was not easy.

The 36-year-old, who celebrated his birthday this week, missed the Madrid Open with an elbow injury and did not look good in Rome before losing in the quarter-finals.

However, Djokovic has the streak, the experience and the track record of winning major titles – despite his struggles.

Who can challenge Alcaraz and Djokovic?

Russia of Daniel Medvedev he leapfrogged Djokovic into second place after winning his first clay court title in Rome.

Medvedev, 27, has been seen as a hard-court specialist and few thought he would be happy with his success in what he described as “dogs playing in the dirt”.

A Danish boy Holger Rune, who defeated Djokovic in Rome before losing to Medvedev, showed his skills again in an impressive clay court season and the 20-year-old world number six is ​​expected to go far in Paris.

In Norway Casper Ruud, who lost to Nadal at the end of last year, started the season well behind him to reach the semi-finals of Rome, where the final of 2021. Stefanos Tsitsipas he is also expected to challenge again.

Norrie, 27, did not make it past the third round, as the 24th seed Dan Evans and Jack Draper and other Britons in the draw.

Murray, 36, he went out for the weekend prioritizing the grass court season in the build up to Wimbledon.

Carlos Alcaraz is the top seed in the men's division, followed by Daniil Medvedev, Novak Djokovic, Casper Ruud, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Holger Rune, Andrey Rublev and Jannik Sinner.
Daniil Medvedev topped Novak Djokovic in the French Open seeding by winning the Italian Open.

Are we seeing the start of a new ‘Big Three’?

Over the years, since Serena Williams’ heyday, the women’s game has seen a revolving door of great champions.

In the past year, Swiatek emerged as a dominant force, taking the world number one title when Australia’s Ashleigh Barty retired, then winning the Roland Garros and US Open titles.

The 21-year-old from Poland is enjoying another good season while – understandably – not reaching the same heights as last year when he won 37 matches in a row.

Swiatek has won two titles so far in 2023 – Doha and Stuttgart – but is coming under pressure from Belarus’ Sabalenka and Kazakhstan’s Rybakina.

Iga Swiatek took action after winning points at the Italian Open in Rome
Iga Swiatek has won 49 of her 54 clay court matches, starting at the French Open in September 2020.

With Sabalenka claiming her first title at the Australian Open in January, and Rybakina winning the Wimbledon title between Swiatek’s two major victories last year, the trio are fast becoming the WTA’s ‘Big Three’.

Sabalenka, having achieved his natural strength and improved his movement, won more titles (three) and reached the final (five) than anyone else this season.

On clay, the world number two lost in the final in Stuttgart to Swiatek before making up for that loss by beating him to win the Madrid title.

However, he was too scared to leave Rome which made him say he was “tired”.

Meanwhile, Rybakina elevated herself to third favorite behind Swiatek and Sabalenka after winning the biggest clay title of her career in Rome.

The win came under unusual circumstances, however, as he saw three of his six opponents retire due to injury.

That includes Swiatek with the quarter-final qualifying round still on and Ukraine’s Anhelina Kalinina with Rybakina leading 6-4 1-0 in Saturday’s final.

Rybakina was not yet considered a force on red clay, but insists she always felt she could “play well on clay” and put her success in Rome down to “knowing and preparing well”.

The win lifted her to fourth in the world – although she would have been in the top three alongside Swiatek and Sabalenka if the rankings had been handed out at Wimbledon – and means she cannot face one of the top two until the semi-finals. Roland Garros.

Who else can argue?

While Swiatek, Sabalenka and Rybakina have won one of the three major clay-court tournaments leading up to Roland Garros, and the last four Grand Slams between them, several French Open champions have emerged from the shadows in recent years.

In Latvia Jelena Ostapenko he was one of them in 2017 as an uncapped 20-year-old and his run to the semi-finals in Rome was a reminder of just how great his game can be on the pitch.

American boy Coco Gauff lost to Swiatek in last year’s final but the sixth seed could not fight back-to-back on European clay, while the third seed won. Jessica Pegula – also Gauff’s partner – has maintained consistency this year.

The fifth seed Caroline Garcia she wants to become the first French singles champion since Mary Pierce in 2000, but she only reached the quarter-finals once, in 2017, and also lost in the last 32 in Madrid and Rome.

From Britain, Raducanu is injured after arm and leg surgery, and six other women failed to qualify, leaving the country without a representative in women’s music at the Grand Slam for the first time since the 2009 US Open.

Iga Swiatek is the top seed in the women's division, followed by Aryna Sabalenka, Jessica Pegula, Elena Rybakina, Caroline Garcia, Coco Gauff, Ons Jabeur and Maria Sakkari.
Sixth seed Coco Gauff won the women’s title last year, losing 6-1 6-3 to Iga Swiatek.

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