Although one grand slam tournament is already in the books this season as Novak Djokovic dominated down under and Angelique Kerber was able to pull off an upset in the Australian Open, the ATP and WTA tennis seasons are in full swing starting May 22nd.
The French Open begins the grueling summer grind for the tour professionals, and this is usually the part of the season where the cream rises to the top. Call it a cheat sheet, call it a text book or even a manual, but this article will give you everything you want to know and everything you need to know heading in to the 2016 edition of the French Open, which has its first round on Sunday, May 22, with the Women’s Finals scheduled for Saturday, June 4 and the Men’s Final on Sunday, June 5.
For Starters: The French Open is played on clay, a very unique surface in the game of tennis. The clay court, being much softer and slower than grass and hard courts, neutralizes power, rewards quickness and requires players to be very fit in order to survive long rallies that are a common 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 factor that works in the favor of the players is the weather. The French Open is played right before the summer months roll in, and the temperature is usually perfect for players and tennis fans alike.
French Frustration: Although the title is named the French Open, many fans are beginning to think the tournament should be changed to the Spanish Open. To go along with Rafael Nadal’s nine titles in the last 11 years, a Spanish born player won the event five out of ten times from 1993-2003. The only Frenchman to ever win the French Open when it was contested as a professional event was Yannick Noah in 1983.
If the home crowd wants to see one of their own take home the title, their best hope is the powerful Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Tsonga, now 31, is reaching the end of his prime but is still a fearsome competitor. He reached the semifinals of the French Open last year and would love to win his first career major title in front of his home fans. Gilles Simon, a journeyman, and Gael Monfils, a wildcard to say the least, are two other French players that can bring a title back to France, but their draw will be much tougher than Tsonga’s.
As for the French women, their last champion was Mary Pierce in 2000, and it seems their hope for a woman champion is still a few years away. Kristina Mladenovic, 23, is starting to play some great tennis but has a long way 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.
Names You Need To Know: Heading into any men’s singles tournament the list of favorites is a broken record. Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray have been the favorites for the past five years and in that time span you’d be hard pressed to find a trophy that doesn’t have their name on it. However, the clay surface is the great equalizer and there are young players on the rise waiting to swoop in to take the tennis throne should one of these great players slip up.
Japan’s Kei Nishikori is at the top of that list. The 26-year-old plays like the Energizer bunny and although he doesn’t have the power to match the top 4 players in the world he has the heart and the skill. He is ranked No. 6 in the world and reached the quarterfinals of the French Open last year. The other name that is a trending topic in tennis these days is Canada’s Milos Raonic. He has vaulted in to the top-10 in the world rankings and is playing some of the best tennis of his life.
In the women’s bracket, Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka are receiving top billing as usual. Azarenka has rebounded from an injury and is once again a top five tennis player. Serena is Serena and strikes fear in all of her opponents except a select few. Two women 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 in the world right now. She beat Serena Williams in the Australian Open final this season and is currently the third ranked player in the world.
Defending Champ: In 2015, Switzerland’s Stanislas Wawrinka could not be stopped. He defeated Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the semifinals and No. 1 player in the world Novak Djokovic in the final with an impressive display of power and will that stunned the crowd. At 31, it seems Wawrinka is finally reaching the peak of his tennis abilities, and he will be hard to beat again this year.
Serena Williams is usually the defending champion of every grand slam title these days, and the American will look to win her fourth French Open title this season and her third in four years so…
Prediction: One of the scariest things in sports is a hungry Serena Williams. She currently 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 combined with a chance to defend her title Serena will be firing on all cylinders.
As for the men, history is on the line once again at Roland Garros. Novak Djokovic, who now has 11 career grand slam titles is still chasing the elusive career grand slam. Only seven players in the history of tennis have ever accomplished this feat and four of them have completed it at the French Open. Djokovic has been the runner-up in three of the last four years and the breakthrough is inevitable. I see Kei Nishikori, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal all making strong runs to the semifinals, but I’d get French Open Final tickets as I believe Novak Djokovic will lift the trophy and make history in the process.
Missing In Action: Two tennis legends will not be competing in the 2016 French Open. Maria Sharapova, a two-time French Open Champion, is serving a suspension for using a banned substance. In the men’s draw, Roger Federer, arguably the best tennis player of all-time pulled out recently due to a back injury. Federer was a champion at this event back in 2009.