Runners and riders for French Open
Originally published on 25/05/17 00:00
tennishead takes a closer look at five title contenders:
Novak Djokovic left Roland Garros last year as the undisputed world No.1 after becoming the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four majors at once. The Serbian appeared to be at the peak of his powers after his emotional win in the French capital, but his level of play has dropped considerably since.
It has been a turbulent 12 months for the 30-year-old – on and off the court – but his decision to appoint Andre Agassi as his coach on a trial basis could prove to be a masterstroke. Djokovic now has his childhood idol in his corner, and that could just be the boost he needs to reignite his dwindling flame.
A rejuvenated Rafael Nadal arrives in Paris with ‘La Decima’ on his mind. The ‘King of Clay’ is chasing an unprecedented tenth French Open title and he is the overwhelming favourite to add another major to his haul.
The Spaniard, who leads the ATP Race to London, has been in scintillating form this year and he is once again a force to be reckoned with – especially on his beloved clay. Nadal has performed with ferocious intent in recent months and his famous lefty forehand has been back to its destructive best.
Last year’s finalist, Andy Murray, has struggled with injury and illness this year. It has been a stop-start campaign for the world No.1, and he has suffered numerous shock defeats and early exits.
It was hoped that the clay-court season would help the Scot rediscover his rhythm and range however he has looked uncomfortable with the red dirt beneath his feet. With confidence low and his serve still not firing on all cylinders after an elbow complaint, Murray will need to be vigilant in the early rounds.
Stan Wawrinka bludgeoned his way to the Roland Garros title in 2015 and he becomes a different animal at Grand Slams. The 32-year-old often fails to find his intensity at regular ATP Tour events, but he can never be counted out at the majors.
The uncompromising Swiss is a sight to behold when in full-flow. The best-of-five set format appears to suit the US Open champion and he has the firepower necessary to overcome any player in the field.
Dominic Thiem showed just why he has been widely tipped to become the next dominant force on clay when he thundered his way past a helpless Nadal in Rome last week. It was a jaw-dropping display of unrelenting attacking tennis from the Austrian 23-year-old, and he is only going to get better.
Thiem may not get hands on the French Open title this year, but it is unlikely to be too long before he follows in the footsteps of his countryman, Thomas Muster.