This Sunday sees Roland Garros open its doors once more as the 2016 French Open gets underway. Will Djokovic be able to complete the career grand-slam, or will he fall at the final hurdle once more? And who can stop Serena Williams adding another title to her every expanding list. Let’s take a look at the challengers.
Serb Novak Djokovic will begin the tournament as number 1 seed and undoubted favourite. His form on the clay has picked up since his loss to Jiří Veselý in Monte Carlo, leading him to victory in Madrid and a final loss against Andy Murray in Rome. Despite looking uncertain at times in the punishingly long best of five set format of a major, there is no doubt Djokovic has the capability to finally break his French Open duck. But it won’t be plain sailing. Andy Murray recently gained one over Djokovic triumphing 6-3, 6-3 in Rome, while Rafael Nadal is finally showing some sort of return to his best. Murray has historically found clay his least favourable surface, but over recent years his experience and maturing game have given hope that this year he might be in with a shot at the title. Nadal is no stranger to the Roland Garros trophy, having won it 9 times in his career. Injuries have plagued the Spaniard since 2014, but in the last few months he has returned to close to his best. Whether he has the quality and the durability to win the title for a record 10th time remains to be seen.
Title holder Stan Wawrinka also cannot be discounted. Although struggling a little for form over the past months he did claim the Geneva Open two days before his first match in Paris. The possessor of a titanic backhand and one of the few powerful enough to still smack winners on the clay if he builds up a head of steam he will go deep into the second week. Kei Nishikori can also be relied on to go far into the tournament. The 2014 US Open finalist reached the last 8 this year, and a combination of excellent technique and outright speed make him a tough opponent to break down. Big hitters Milos Raonic and Nick Kyrgios both have the ability to blast anyone off the court on their day, whilst David Ferrer and Richard Gasquet could both cause an upset if they create a run of form. However, I can’t see Djokovic or Murray being phased too much and would expect them to be contesting for the main prize.
The women’s side is both much less complicated and much more. Serena Williams can be relied upon to go far. Her power based game is simply far superior to the rest of the field, and if she finds her form she is my pick to win. The rest of the draw is a far tighter affair. Last year’s tournament saw 6 of the top 15 seeds knocked out in the first two rounds. All of Simona Halep, Agniezka Radwanska, Angelique Kerber or Victoria Azarenka have the potential to make the latter stages, which actually will is less certain. Azarenka, Halep and Kerber have all won tournaments recently and on their day can beat anyone, including champion Williams, as was seen in Kerber’s Australian Open victory over the American in January. Keep an eye on Sloane Stephens though. The young American is highly rated on the WTA tour and she soon will be making considerable inroads to the grand slam tournaments.
As far as Brit-watch is concerned Johanna Konta, Heather Watson, Laura Robson, Naomi Broady, Andy Murray, Kyle Edmund and Aljaz Bedene will all feature in the main draws. Aside from the obvious in Murray, Johanna Konta could perhaps cause reason for celebration after her run to the semi-final in Australia. For the rest any run past the second round would represent an achievement whist the sight of 22 year old Robson back at a grand slam is welcome news after 2 long injury riddled years that could have seen her retire.