The second Grand Slam of the year, French Open, will get underway at the Stade Roland Garros in Paris on Sunday, May 28.
Arguably, the most difficult surface to play on, ‘clay’ has got the better of many tennis greats. Some faded away, some prevailed and some etched their names in sporting history.
Rafael Nadal, who is considered the king of clay and is chasing his 10th French Open title, is being touted as a favorite to lift the Coupe des Mousquetaires. Riding high on his recent title wins in Barcelona and Monte Carlo, Nadal remains the top draw by far for Roland Garros. Although Djokovic has got the hang of playing on Parisian clay now, his poor run of form in the recent months does not vouch for him to be a strong competitor for the Spaniard playing on his most preferred surface.
The only Grand Slam to start on a Sunday, eluded one of the most decorated tennis players of the modern era and defending champion, Novak Djokovic, for over eight years since he won his first major at Melbourne Park in 2008.
It also seems fair to say that the world number one Andy Murray will have to wait to win his first French Open title following a considerable drop in his performance since he won gold at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics last year. Owing to expectations of a little competition from senior players, young guns Nick Kyrgios, Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem are expected to make things a little difficult for Nadal in Paris.
Zverev stomped into the top ten of ATP rankings last week as the world took notice of the 20-year-old German in awe. The youngster took the tennis universe by storm as he dismantled mighty Novak Djokovic in straight sets to win the Italian Open.
As far as female players are concerned, unfortunately, defending champion Garbine Muguruza cannot be claimed as a strong title contender due to her questionable fitness. World number one Angelique Kerber, who is also struggling with her fitness, has never made it past quarterfinals in the French capital. In that case, Romanian Simona Halep is expected to lead the charge owing to her recent clay court performances in Madrid and Rome. She also made it to the final in 2014 but faltered to clear the last hurdle as Maria Sharapova lifted her second French Open title.
Now let’s come to the hard part. A Grand Slam definitely loses its charm if the greats of the game decide to give the tournament a miss. Although Roger Federer, Serena Williams, and Maria Sharapova have their valid reasons to sit out of the competition, they will be sorely missed.
As we get ready for two weeks of grueling tennis action, let’s see what the French Open 2017 will be missing due to the absence of its terrific trio.
It is a well-known fact that the 18-time Grand Slam winner is crazy about grass courts. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Federer loves playing at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club as much as Jon Snow loves wielding his ‘Longclaw’. Although Federer broke the hearts of millions by withdrawing from the dustiest Grand Slam on the planet for the second straight year in preparation for Wimbledon, the 35-year-old assured that he is trying to prolong his career by consciously avoiding the taxing clay court season.
The Swiss, who missed the last six months of the 2016 season with a knee injury, is positive that he will compete in Paris next year.
The winner of the first Grand Slam of 2017, Australian Open, Federer, lifted his maiden silver trophy designed and made by Maison Mellerio dits Meller, in 2009.
Roger Federer’s absence will definitely make things easier for nine-time champion Rafael Nadal, who remains unbeaten on clay this season.
Serena Williams, the best female tennis player of this era and one of the world’s most prominent athletes, announced on Twitter in April that she was pregnant and expecting her first child later this year. At the peak of her career, the 35-year-old decided that Grand Slam titles can wait as she promised to be back on the circuit to contest her 24th major in 2018.
The three-time French Open winner (2002, 2013, 2015) was two months pregnant when she won Australian Open in January and broke her tie with Steffi Graf for the most Grand Slam singles titles in the Open era
Williams now ranks behind only Margaret Court’s 24 on the career list.
The American has been single-handedly dominating women’s tennis in recent history and because of her absence, women’s championship at French Open 2017 will be wide open and up for grabs.
Maria Sharapova tasted major success very early in her career. She was a Wimbledon champion and world number one at eighteen. Despite being injury-prone, Sharapova has sustained a long playing career and is still going strong.
On 12 March 2016, the Russian announced that she tested positive for a banned substance during the Australian Open 2016 and all hell broke loose.
The two-time French Open winner (2012, 2014) was outlawed for taking meldonium, a medication she had been taking for 10 years within the rules, but that was reclassified as a banned drug.
After serving a 15-month ban, Sharapova is back, determined to salvage her lost pride. She got wild card entries at most of the WTA tournaments but was refused a wild card into the French Open.
Sharapova, who is confident in her integrity, has 310 ranking points to her name, which places her at number 171 and she cannot get a direct entry with such low rankings.
With Serena Williams missing out, French Open 2017 was being considered Sharapova’s tournament of reckoning. Although the 30-year-old is a bit rusty, still she could have provided a stiff competition to her opponents. We cannot deny that Sharapova’s presence adds spark to competitions and all those who have been eagerly waiting for her return will have to wait a little longer.
Old records will be shattered, upsets will be caused and new stars will rise, still, with Federer, Serena and Sharapova missing, French Open will not be the same this year.