Get set for two weeks of magnifique action from Paris, as the second Grand Slam of the season gets under way at Roland Garros…
2019 French Open, from Sunday 26 May, 9.30am, ITV4/HD (CH 118/178)
To win the French Open is to win arguably tennis’s toughest Grand Slam event. Greats like Pete Sampras, Jimmy Connors and Boris Becker never managed it. Neither has Venus Williams – yet. With its slow clay surfaces, the tournament is always a supreme test of physical endurance and mental prowess under intense pressure. You really have to grind out a victory here.
All of which makes the year’s second major well worth a watch. But who possesses that certain je ne sais quoi to go all the way in Paris this year? Defending men’s champion Rafael Nadal will have his hands full against old enemies and fresh-faced foes, while Simona Halep would become the first female champion to retain the title since 2007 if she’s still standing at the end of the two weeks. We said if.
One thing you can be sure of is that a whole host of ace stars will be looking to make chumps of the champs when the drama gets under way at Roland Garros. From the young talent shaking up the tennis world to the familiar faces eager to build on their glittering careers, these are the players you should expect to hear plenty more about at the 2019 French Open…
1. Rafael Nadal
The King of Roland Garros, defending champion Nadal is aiming to win a staggering 12th French Open singles title this year. The Spaniard is so dominant here you sometimes wonder why the rest of the field bother turning up. Still, as demonstrated by his early exits in 2009, 2015 and 2016, Nadal is fallible in Paris – and at 32, are his powers on the wane?
2. Novak Djokovic
Following an injury-plagued 2018, the elastic-limbed Serb is back at the top of the world rankings. Which is absolutely terrible news for his rivals. Nadal’s all-encompassing supremacy at Roland Garros means Djokovic has won the French Open just once – but he’s already beaten Nadal in a major final this year, in Australia in January. This is a great opportunity to lift the trophy for a second time.
3. Roger Federer
After missing the last two clay-court seasons in order to keep his body in full working order, Federer is back on the dirt. Expectations are low for the 2009 champion, who last featured at Roland Garros in 2015, but that could play into his hands. A second French Open title for Fed at the age of 37? Don’t write the 20-time Grand Slam champion off just yet.
4. Alexander Zverev
The 22-year-old German is hot property among the ageing landscape of the men’s top ten. A French Open quarter-finalist in 2018, Zverev has three clay titles to his name and is widely tipped to be a multiple Grand Slam champion in the future. Is this the year the powerful baseliner makes the step up to the big time?
5. Fabio Fognini
Dangerous. Combustible. Unpredictable. The Italian is a clay-court specialist, winning eight titles on the surface including the recent Monte-Carlo Masters. But he definitely has a temper on him – Fognini’s outbursts have got him in trouble with the tennis authorities approximately 2,538 times in the past. He divides opinion like few others, but Fognini is always compelling.
1. Simona Halep
Is there a more frustratingly unpredictable tennis star than Halep? The Romanian’s Grand Slam record is a bizarre patchwork of bafflingly early exits and nerveless runs to the latter stages. The world number three finally won her first major title at Roland Garros last year, beating Sloane Stephens in a fittingly topsy-turvy final. The question now is whether Halep can handle the pressure of being the defending champion. Watch this space.
2. Naomi Osaka
In case you didn’t know, we’re living in the Age of Osaka. The 21-year-old Japanese is the reigning US and Australian Open champion, and has breathed new life into the women’s game with her humorously bashful demeanour off court and her irresistible aggression on it. Glory on clay has eluded her so far, but it’s only a matter of time before this sensational starlet makes a major impact at Roland Garros.
3. Petra Kvitová
With a big serve and an even bigger heart, Kvitová is back in the hunt for titles following the horrendous knife attack in 2016 that threatened to end her career. Paris, however, isn’t a happy hunting ground for the Czech. A semi-final appearance in 2012 is the best the two-time Wimbledon champion has registered here so far. But with the other top women’s players lacking consistency, Kvitová could pounce.
4. Serena Williams
So what if Serena Williams hasn’t won a tournament in 2019? The American is still the queen of tennis. A last-16 exit at the French Open 12 months ago will have stung this most exacting of sporting icons, so everyone else should prepare for a backlash. Having won this title three times, Williams has the edge over her opponents when it comes to repeatedly going all the way at Roland Garros. She’s still lingering on 23 Grand Slam singles titles, so her pursuit to match Margaret Court’s record of 24 continues.
5. Elina Svitolina
The tenacious Ukrainian’s Grand Slam record is underwhelming for someone who has previously reached world number three. She’s more than a little handy on clay though, with two runs to the quarter-finals at Roland Garros. The 24-year-old will be expected to make a serious run at the crown this year following her victory at the 2018 WTA Tour Finals in Singapore.
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