Image: Wikimedia Commons / Yann Caradec
Image: Wikimedia Commons / Yann Caradec

The French Open returns

Finally, after a short delay due to Covid-19, Grand Slam tennis is back in the form of the French Open. After Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic’s triumphs in the Australian Open this January, it has felt like an eternity since we last saw players step out onto a tennis court at a major tournament, with lockdowns meaning the days have dragged by here in the UK.

However, now that it is back, we can look forward to some fantastic tennis that will be going on in Roland Garros over the next few weeks.

On the men’s side of the draw, Rafael Nadal, the best clay-court player of all time, is understandably the favourite, and will look to become the most decorated male player in history, overtaking the returning Roger Federer. As things stand, both Federer and Nadal have 20 Grand Slams under their belts, and as 13 of Nadal’s are French Opens, there is a strong likelihood he will take the trophy again this year.

Nadal’s main rival will likely be Djokovic, a man coming into the competition in good form, having won the Australian Open at the start of the year. Although he has only won one French Open in his career, in 2016, Djokovic seems to be getting better with age, and is perhaps the best player in the world as things stand. Tellingly, however, Djokovic lost to Nadal in the final of the warm-up clay tournament, the Italian Open, and there is every likelihood this Grand Slam will end with the same outcome.

In the women’s tournament, there is no outright favourite

Other contenders for the crown include Daniil Medvedev, who has reached two Grand Slam finals in recent years (in the USA and Australia), US Open champion Dominic Thiem, and the evergreen Roger Federer. Federer will be making his return to tennis after a 16-month break, and, although he will undoubtedly be rusty, and could easily fall in the opening few rounds, his skill and grace is eternal, and this could be one final last hurrah.

In the women’s tournament, there is no outright favourite, with a number of contenders who could come away with the trophy at the end of the tournament. Ashleigh Barty looks good for the title, the world number one and the most consistent player over the past year. Having won the French Open in 2019, the Australian has since continued her good form, winning in Miami and Madrid in recent months, although she had to retire in the Italian Open quarter final with a slight injury.

Naomi Osaka is another name mentioned, someone who has been getting better year on year and looks set for a spell of dominance at the top of the women’s game. Although she comes into the tournament in relatively good form, with an Australian Open victory in January, she has never performed particularly well on clay. In the two warm-up tournaments in Madrid and Italy, she only won one match, and her best performance in the French Open is when she reached the third round in 2016, 2018 and 2019. It will therefore take something special for Osaka to triumph in Paris, but she should not be counted out.

Young prospect and current reigning-champion Iga Swiatek is another player who should go far in the tournament. Although she lost in the third round of the Australian Open to Simona Halep, she comes into the tournament in good form once again, and, with Grand Slam-winning experience under her belt, she is a good bet to reach the semi-finals at least. Halep is out with injury, a blow ahead of a tournament where she would have been one of the favourites.

Serena Williams will also be competing, although she has looked a shadow of her former self over the past year, and is unfortunately more likely to go out in an early round.

However, the beauty of tennis is in its unpredictability, and anything really can happen, as Dan Evan’s recent triumph over Djokovic in Monte Carlo shows. What is most important, however, is tennis’ return, and, with some fans returning to Roland Garros, this is just another step on the road to normality (although lets hope Federer and Williams win at the end of it).

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