French Open: Players to Watch

In profitable the French Open 11 of the final 14 years, Rafael Nadal of Spain has all however cemented his tennis footwear into the terre battue, or purple clay, of Roland Garros.

That mentioned, the 32-year-old failed to achieve the ultimate of a clay-court match till he beat Novak Djokovic to win this 12 months’s Italian Open, the ultimate warm-up earlier than the French Open.

It was the primary time since 2004, Nadal’s second 12 months on tour, that he had gone almost 5 months into the season with out profitable an ATP title.

Simona Halep, who gained her first, and to date solely, main at Roland Garros in 2018, misplaced out on an opportunity to return to the No. 1 world rating when she misplaced within the ultimate in Madrid. She then misplaced within the second spherical in Rome to No. 44 Marketa Vondrousova. Naomi Osaka had grabbed the highest spot by profitable back-to-back majors eventually 12 months’s United States Open and the Australian Open in January.

[Roland Garros’s clay courts can be particularly tricky. Here’s why.]

And then there’s the three-time French Open champ Serena Williams, who performed her solely clay-court match of the 12 months on the Italian Open, attempting to tie Margaret Court’s file of 24 main single titles. She withdrew with a knee harm earlier than her second-round match towards her sister Venus.

But ought to they falter, there are a bunch of contenders able to seize the championship.

Stefanos Tsitsipas

At the French Open, Roger Federer will likely be enjoying in his 76th main championship, Rafael Nadal his 56th. Tsitsipas, 20, of Greece will likely be contesting simply the seventh main of his profession. Two years in the past, Tsitsipas made it by qualifying at Roland Garros solely to lose within the first spherical of the principle draw to 6-foot-11 Ivo Karlovic. The 6-foot-Four Tsitsipas is now a prime eight seed, achieved largely in January on the Australian Open, the place he upset Federer, the six-time champ, en path to the semifinals.

Tsitsipas, who has a one-handed backhand that rivals Federer’s in model and substance, has been on the street nonstop this 12 months, competing in 12 of 13 consecutive tournaments and profitable in Marseille on exhausting courts and on clay at Estoril. He additionally upset Nadal in three units to achieve the ultimate in Madrid this month earlier than falling 6-Three, 6-Four to the No. 1, Novak Djokovic. Last week he misplaced to Nadal by the identical rating within the Italian Open semis. Tsitsipas has a 29-11 match file, 13-Four on clay and is the youngest participant to have already notched wins over Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, whom he beat en path to the Toronto ultimate final August. Last 12 months, he entered Roland Garros ranked No. 39. Now he’s No. 6.

Guido Pella

Guido Pella of Argentina through the quarterfinals at Monte Carlo final month. He gained his first ATP title at São Paulo in February.CreditClaude Paris/Associated Press

Pella is the consummate dirt-baller, the most recent in an extended line of Argentine males who’ve achieved success on clay courts. When Guillermo Vilas gained the 1977 U.S. Open, it was performed on clay. In 2004, Gastón Gaudio beat his countryman Guillermo Coria to win the French Open.

José Luis Clerc, David Nalbandian, Alberto Mancini, Martin Jaite and Juan Martin del Potro (the 2009 U.S. Open winner) have all been ranked throughout the world’s Top 10. Though Pella, who simply turned 29, is simply 2-5 on exhausting courts this season, he has 20 clay-court wins towards simply eight losses. He gained his first ATP title at São Paulo in February, beating Christian Garin of Chile within the ultimate. He additionally reached the ultimate at Córdoba, the semifinals at Buenos Aires and the quarterfinals at Munich, Barcelona and Monte Carlo, the place he knocked out the 2014 U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic earlier than falling to Nadal. Pella got here into Roland Garros final 12 months ranked No. 78; now he’s at 22.

Felix Auger-Aliassime

Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada on the Miami Open in March. At 18, he’s the youngest participant ranked within the ATP’s prime 100.CreditJim Rassol/Associated Press

Nicknamed F.A.A., Auger-Aliassime appears headed on a flight path proper to the highest of tennis. The 18-year-old Canadian is the youngest participant ranked within the ATP’s prime 100, reaching altitude at No. 28, however probably climbing. Finishing final 12 months at No. 109, he has additionally made the largest soar into the highest 50, largely on the power of qualifying for and reaching the semifinals on the Masters 1000 occasion in Miami in March. In shedding to the eventual runner-up, John Isner, Auger-Aliassime turned the youngest male semifinalist in match historical past. The 2016 U.S. Open junior champ and French Open junior runner-up that 12 months, Auger-Aliassime has a 17-11 match file this 12 months, 10-Eight on clay courts. Last 12 months, he was ranked No. 178 going into Roland Garros and misplaced within the second spherical of qualifying. This 12 months, he will likely be seeded.

Kiki Bertens

Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands through the Madrid Open finals earlier this month, the place she defeated Simona Halep.CreditJulian Finney/Getty Images

At the top of the 2017 season, Bertens was ranked outdoors the highest 30, sad with tennis and considering retirement. But the Dutchwoman, now 27, adjusted her priorities and targets and rededicated herself to the sport, and the outcomes have been startling. She has gained 5 WTA titles within the final 13 months, together with on clay in Madrid two weeks in the past, the place she beat 4 former Grand Slam winners in Jelena Ostapenko, Petra Kvitova, Sloane Stephens and Halep, all with out the lack of a set. She then reached the semifinals in Rome, advancing when Osaka pulled out with a hand harm. Bertens, who’s now at a career-high No. Four, has one of many largest serves on tour and used it to hit 20 aces towards Belinda Bencic en path to the Stuttgart semifinals final month. Bertens has by no means reached the ultimate at a significant, however she did make it to the semis of the French Open in 2016, turning into the primary Dutchwoman in a significant semifinal since Betty Stove reached the U.S. Open semis in 1977. Since 2016, she has a tour finest 70 match wins on clay.

Belinda Bencic

Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, seen right here final month at Lugano, gained Dubai in February with victories over 4 prime 10 gamers.CreditAlessandro Crinari/EPA, by way of Shutterstock

Bencic has lengthy been billed as the following Martina Hingis. The 22-year-old from Switzerland, who focuses on taking the ball on the rise and directing it into all corners of the courtroom, in 2015 beat Serena Williams, who was No. 1 on the time, in Toronto en path to her second profession title. In doing so, she turned the youngest participant to beat Williams since Maria Sharapova, then 17 years outdated, did it on the 2004 WTA Finals.

But after reaching a career-high No. 7 in 2016, Bencic suffered myriad maladies, together with a debilitating lower-back harm, that precipitated her rating to plummet. She has fought again, profitable Dubai in February with victories over 4 prime 10 gamers: Halep, Aryna Sabalenka, Eleni Svitolina and Kvitova. She additionally beat the No. 1, Osaka, and Karolina Pliskova to achieve the semis in Indian Wells and beat Osaka once more on clay in Madrid earlier than she misplaced within the semis to Halep. In 2013, Bencic gained the junior titles at Roland Garros and Wimbledon. The final two years, she and Roger Federer have teamed as much as lead Switzerland to the Hopman Cup.

Anett Kontaveit

Anett Kontaveit of Estonia reached the semifinals of the Miami Open in March. She has gained 10 of her final 15 matches.CreditMichael Reaves/Getty Images

Kontaveit has by no means handed the spherical of 16 at a significant. But this can be the 12 months, and this could possibly be the foremost. Kontaveit, 23, of Estonia, was runner-up to Kvitova on an indoor clay courtroom in Stuttgart final month, advancing when the two-time Australian Open champ Victoria Azarenka retired down Three-Zero within the third set. She moved on to the ultimate when Osaka withdrew with an belly harm.

Kontaveit, a giant ball striker with nice tempo and selection, additionally reached the semifinals of the Miami Open earlier than falling to Ashleigh Barty (she benefited from one more retirement when the Indian Wells champ Bianca Andreescu pulled out injured throughout their spherical of 16 match). She then misplaced to Pliskova within the spherical of 16 in Indian Wells. In all, Kontaveit has gained 10 of her final 15 matches. In 2015, she turned simply the seventh qualifier within the Open period to achieve the spherical of 16 on the U.S. Open.

After Madrid, Kontaveit was ranked a career-high No. 14, the perfect ever for a girl from Estonia. Last 12 months, she reached the semifinals on clay at Stuttgart and Rome earlier than shedding to Stephens within the spherical of 16 at Roland Garros.

You may also like...