Although one grand slam tournament is in the books this season, as Novak Djokovic fell and Angelique Kerber managed to pull off an upset in the Australian Open, the ATP and WTA tennis seasons are in full swing beginning May 22nd.
The French Open begins the grueling summer grind for tour professionals, and this is typically the part of the season where the cream rises to the top.
For Starters: The French Open is played on clay, an extremely viable surface. Being considerably softer and slower than grass courts, clay courts reward quickness and requires players to be quite fit in order to survive long rallies that are a standard occurrence. Rafael Nadal has a made a living on this surface, winning nine times on the clay at the Roland Garros Stadium, home of the French Open, the most wins all-time at a single major.
The one variable that works in favor of the players is the weather. The French Open is played right before the summertime rolls in, and the temperature is normally perfect for players and tennis enthusiasts equally.
French Discouragement: Many devotees are starting to believe the tournament should be changed to the Spanish Open, although the title is named the French Open. To go along with Rafael Nadal’s nine titles in the last 11 years, a Spanish player has won the event five out of ten times from 1993-2003. The only Frenchman to win the French Open, was Yannick Noah in 1983.
If the home crowd needs to see one of their own take home the title, their greatest hope is the strong Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Tsonga, now 31, is reaching the end of his prime but is still a fearsome opponent. He would love to win his first career major title facing his home fans as he reached the semifinals of the French Open last year. A wildcard to say the least, Gael Monfils, and Gilles Simon, a journeyman, are two other French players that can bring a title back to France, but their draw will be a lot rougher than Tsonga’s.
As for the French women, their last champion was Mary Pierce in 2000, and it seems their hope for a woman champ continues to be a couple of years away. At 23, Kristina Mladenovic is starting to play some great tennis but has a ways to go before becoming a champion. She has a shot to reach the quarterfinals and will have the home crowd behind her which always helps.
Heading into any guys singles tournament, the list of favorites is a broken record. The clay surface is the great equalizer and there are young players on the rise waiting to swoop in to take their tennis throne should one of these great players slip up.
Japan’s Kei Nishikori is at the top of that list. The other name that is a trending issue in tennis these days is Canada’s Milos Raonic. He has vaulted in to the top-10 in the world and is playing some of the best tennis of his life.
In the women’s bracket, Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka are tournameent favorites as usual. Azarenka is once again a top five tennis player and has rallied from an injury. Serena is Serena and strikes fear in all her opponents except a select few. Two girls can step up and challenge Serena for the title, one being Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska, the second ranked player in the world. The other is Germany’s Angelique Kerber, who might be the most confident player on the planet at this time. She is currently the third ranked player on the planet and beat Serena Williams in the Australian Open final this season.
Defending Champ: In 2015, Switzerland’s Stanislas Wawrinka couldn’t be stopped. At 31, it appears Wawrinka is finally reaching the peak of his tennis abilities, and he will be difficult to beat again.
Prediction: Among the most scary things in sports is a famished Serena Williams. She now has 21 grand slam titles and is four away from breaking the all-time record set by Margaret Court (24). After coming off a loss at the Australian Open joined with any chance, Serena will be firing on all cylinders.
When it comes to guys, history is on the line again at Roland Garros & Novak Djokovic, who now has 11 career grand slam titles is still chasing the elusive career grand slam. Just seven players in the history of tennis have accomplished this feat and it has been completed by four of them at the French Open. Djokovic has been the runner up in three of the last four years and the breakthrough is inevitable. I see Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Kei Nishikori all making strong runs to the semifinals, but I’d get French Open Final tickets as I consider Novak Djokovic to make history this year.
Missing In Action: Two tennis stars wont be competing in the 2016 French Open. Maria Sharapova, a two-time French Open Champ, is serving a suspension for using a banned substance. In the men’s draw, Roger Federer the best tennis player of all-time pulled out recently a result of a back injury. Federer was a winner at this event back in 2009.