Up to five players could win this year’s men’s French Open in the “widest open” Grand Slam since Rafael Nadal’s domination, according to Marion Bartoli.
With 14-time champion Nadal sitting out a chunk of the season ahead of an expected swansong next year, Spanish hopes at the French Open now rest on Carlos Alcaraz’s broad shoulders.
The 20-year-old claimed his first Grand Slam title at the US Open last summer but was forced to sit out the Australian Open through injury so will be entering a major as a slam champion for the first time.
He is also the top seed after surpassing Novak Djokovic following back-to-back titles in Barcelona and Madrid.
Can Alcaraz take Nadal’s crown?
Spanish tennis fans should not feel too sorry for themselves because the heir to Nadal’s place at the top of the sport is already here. Having only just turned 20, Carlos Alcaraz has already won his first grand-slam title at the US Open and this week reclaimed the world No 1 ranking. As confident on hard courts as clay, Alcaraz is an astounding athlete while his all-round game and calm temperament belong to a much more experienced player. There is a lot of hype but boy is it justified.
Projected men’s quarter-finals by seeding
(1) Carlos Alcaraz vs (5) Stefanos Tsitsipas
(3) Novak Djokovic vs (7) Andrey Rublev
(6) Holger Runev vs (4) Casper Ruud
(8) Jannik Sinner vs (2) Daniil Medvedev
“This is going to be the widest open Roland Garros we’re going to have since Nadal’s domination,” said Bartoli, speaking to Sky Sports.
“I have picked five names who could win this year and they are Djokovic, Alcaraz, Holger Rune, Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas. I still feel like one of those players will be the winner but picking five names who could win the men’s tournament has never happened in the past in almost 20 years.
“It was always Rafa, Roger Federer or Djokovic.
“One of those guys has a huge shot to win Roland Garros which is very surprising.”
Alcaraz could potentially meet Djokovic in the semi-finals, while his swift rise and instant popularity has been a gift to the sport as it faces losing all of its long-time figureheads.
“Alcaraz is one of the favourites but he’s not the overwhelming favourite. No, I don’t think so. There is not one player who stands out in the pack,” continued 2013 Wimbledon champion, Bartoli.
Djokovic is not 100 per cent so we will have to see how physically he deals with his small elbow injury and find some form as the tournament progresses.
Daniil Medvedev has overtaken Djokovic to claim the second seeding by virtue of winning his first tour title on clay at the Italian Open last weekend.
He lost in the first round on his first four appearances at Roland Garros before reaching the quarter-finals in 2021 and the fourth round last year.
“Rome came and out of the blue for Daniil Medvedev to win it under very, very slow conditions because it had been raining for two weeks in the Italian capital,” said Bartoli, who made the semi-finals of the 2011 French Open.
“He’s been able to grab the title and you may think he’s made for faster surfaces, he’s still able to win under slow clay-courts and go all the way to the title, beating Rune.
“You may think of players who you would normally not give a chance actually have a chance this year and that’s something new.
How fit is Djokovic?
Novak Djokovic has two French Open titles on his CV but how many more would there be had he not continually bumped into Nadal? This would appear to be a golden chance not just to win in Paris again but also to move past his great rival and become the first man ever to reach 23 Grand Slam singles titles. All has not been well with the Serbian since he won the Australian Open again, though, and he goes into the tournament with doubts over an elbow problem.
“Djokovic is not 100 per cent so we will have to see how physically he deals with his small elbow injury and find some form as the tournament progresses.”
Can Swiatek make it a hat-trick of titles?
Iga Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina are dominating women’s tennis having won seven of the biggest
titles of the season so far and hold all four Slam trophies, burying the narrative of instability at the top of the women’s game post-Serena Williams.
It would be a major surprise if the winner of the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen does not come from that trio and Swiatek, who cruised to her second Roland Garros title last year.
Projected women’s quarter-finals by seeding
(1) Iga Swiatek vs (6) Coco Gauff
(4) Elena Rybakina vs (7) Ons Jabeur
(8) Maria Sakkari vs (3) Jessica Pegula
(5) Caroline Garcia vs (2) Aryna Sabalenka
“Swiatek has to be able to do it over again,” said Bartoli. “She’s been able to win at Roland Garros on multiple occasions and she’s overwhelming favourite this year, so it’s about dealing with the pressure.
“You can see the stress in her face and stress-related shots when she faces a big-hitter like Sabalenka and Rybakina but for her it’s about being able to deal with the favourite tag and find a way to stay calm to counter-attack the power hitters.”
Last year it seemed inevitable Iga Swiatek would win a second French Open title, and she duly brushed aside all comers on an unbeaten run that eventually ended at 37 matches. This season has been different, though. The Pole has struggled at times with the expectation on her shoulders, while there have been physical issues, too. A WTA big three is emerging comprising of Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina, and the 21-year-old’s No 1 ranking could soon be under threat.
Which British players will be competing at the French Open?
The British No 1’s form has tailed off after a spectacular start to the season, which included victories over Nadal and Alcaraz – the latter bringing him his second biggest title at the ATP Tour event in Rio. Norrie’s heavy, spinning forehand and athletic prowess make him well suited to clay and his position in the top 16 keeps him away from the big guns through the early rounds. A place in the second week will be his target.
A committed ‘clayphobe’ for most of his career, Evans has found his feet on the red stuff over the last couple of seasons and finally won his first match at Roland Garros last year. After a difficult spell post Australian Open when he lost five straight matches, clay has seen the 33-year-old hit form, with runs to the semi-finals of ATP events in Marrakech and Barcelona keeping him in the top 25.
There have been more glimpses this season of what a phenomenal player the 21-year-old left-hander could be, including victories over Andy Murray and Evans in Indian Wells. But frustratingly he has again been restricted by physical problems, the latest an abdominal injury that dogged him for two months. Like his good friend Emma Raducanu, the most important priority for Draper, who will be making his Roland Garros debut, is ensuring his body is not his most difficult opponent.
The road back from a long-term knee injury that required three operations has been slow for Edmund, who is ranked down at 445. A protected ranking of 48 has allowed him to enter the French Open for the first time since 2019 and he will hope for a more favourable draw than in recent major tournaments. The former world No 14 is yet to win a tour level match this year but he has had some success at lower levels and, at 28, still has time on his side if his knee allows.
Reigning men’s doubles champions Alfie Hewett and Gordon Reid are set to lead the charge for the Brits in both the singles and doubles events.
Hewett – a three-time champion at the tournament – will be motivated to pick up his second singles Grand Slam title of the year, while Reid will be hoping to challenge his doubles partner to the title.
Having picked up their 16th Grand Slam title together at the Australian Open, the pair are set to join forces for the doubles draw.
Meanwhile, British No 1 Lucy Shuker could be leading the British line in the singles draw, and Andy Lapthorne will be hoping to clinch the title in the quad draw.