It’s summer time in Paris. This could only mean one thing for tennis fans around the globe: Roland Garros. For the next two weeks, the world’s best tennis players, both men and women, will be vying for top honors in the beautiful French capital. The French Open is the second Grand Slam tournament of the year and the only one out of the four to be played on clay. Most tennis critics and players alike have termed it “the most physically demanding tennis tournament” in the world. And the fact that it is named after a World War I fighter pilot says a lot about its warrior-like nature.
Spain’s Rafael Nadal will resume his love affair with the French as he bids for a record eighth Roland Garros title. Paris has been a happy hunting ground for the Mallorcan, whose only loss at this venue came in 2009 against the hard hitting Swede Robin Soderling. The king of clay has made a habit of dominating the European clay court swing, and this year was no exception. Playing with more aggression than usual on clay and his mobility back to its best, Nadal has made short work of his rivals. With title wins in Madrid, Barcelona and Rome and a runner-up finish in Monte Carlo, the Spaniard is perfectly primed for success in Paris.
World number one Novak Djokovic has had an up and down clay season. He miraculously halted Rafa’s run of eight consecutive titles in Monte Carlo, but followed that up with an early exit in Madrid and a quarterfinal showing in Rome. Despite such lackluster performances, the Serb still remains Nadal’s biggest threat at Roland Garros. British fans received a major blow when their lone title contender, Andy Murray withdrew with an ailing lower back. This means that Switzerland’s Roger Federer will be seeded second, ahead of Nadal and Ferrer. The Swiss maestro can thank his lucky stars and Robin Soderling for his only French title four years ago, because as long as Rafa’s name is in the draw, Federer’s chance of another win looks bleak. He made it all the way to the Rome final before being annihilated at the hands of the mighty Spaniard. It is his inability to hang in rallies long enough, especially off his backhand side, which proves to be his undoing against the Mallorcan. At best, Federer fans can expect their man to make the final, provided Nadal is placed in the other half of the draw.
Another Spaniard, David Ferrer, has looked impressive in his clay campaign. With a runner-up finish in Portugal, the world number five pushed Rafa all the way to three sets, both in Madrid and Rome. He will be looking to better his semifinal showing in Paris from last year. Federer’s compatriot, Wawrinka, has been in good nick of late with a title in Portugal and a final appearance in Madrid. Another dark horse in the men’s draw is the big serving Latvian Gulbis who gave Nadal a run for his money in the Italian capital. There will be plenty of local interest as the talented world number nine Gasquet, the lanky Benoit Paire and the flamboyant Tsonga, amongst others, begin their bid for a homegrown men’s champion for the first time since 1983.
Barring Justine Henin and Serena Williams, Roland Garros has seen some unpredictable women’s champions over the past decade or so. Unlike the men, there have been ten different women who have held aloft the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen in the last thirteen years. However, this year the women’s draw might not be as open as in previous years. World number one Serena Williams has already made her intent for a second French Open crown very clear. Handily taking care of her rivals on her way to title victories in Charleston, Madrid and Rome, the American is possibly in her best clay court form going into Roland Garros. She will be hoping to put the disappointment of last year’s shock first round exit behind her to fully focus on a successful French Open campaign.
Defending champion and world number two Maria Sharapova exceeded everyone’s expectations, including her own, when she won here last year. The blonde Russian, with her improved mobility, is beginning to feel more at home on the clay and her consistent results show that. A winner at Stuttgart and a finalist in Madrid, Sharapova will be looking to fully recover from the illness which forced her to pull out of Rome. On the downside though, the second seed neither has enough finesse nor firepower to topple the overwhelming favorite Williams.
Belarus’s Victoria Azarenka is another title contender. The steely world number three has the guns to go all the way in Paris. Never having got past the quarterfinal stage in previous years, the Australian Open champion has a lot to play for this time around. Other players who have an outside chance of going deep into the tournament are the diminutive Italian Sara Errani, 2011 champion Li Na and the Charleston finalist Jelena Jankovic.
There is delight for the Pakistani viewers as PTV Sports will be airing the French Open live for the second year running. So with the red clay rolled out, players undergoing last minute preparations and the crowds flocking in, it’s love all in Paris!