New look for Roland Garros but Nadal is the familiar favourite
Nadal will be a heavy favourite to win a 12th title at Roland Garros.
Roland Garros will present a new face to the world for this year’s French Open – but a very familiar one looks set to dominate once again.
When Rafael Nadal headed to Rome last week having failed to win an ATP title in Monte Carlo, Barcelona or Madrid for the first time since 2004, his perennial status as Paris favourite looked to be in question.
As Djokovic said following his 6-0 4-6 6-1 defeat in Rome: “Nadal, number one favourite, without a doubt, then everyone else.”
Djokovic has also answered doubts having slipped below the stratospheric level he found in winning a 15th grand slam title at the Australian Open amid turbulent political times for the ATP.
He won his first title since Melbourne at the Madrid Open earlier this month and a hectic schedule in Rome left him at a disadvantage for the final.
If Nadal is at his best in Paris, though, history would indicate that even Djokovic on top form will not be able to prevent him adding a scarcely credible 12th title to his resume.
One unknown factor is how the rebuilding of Roland Garros, and specifically its main court Philippe Chatrier, will affect Nadal.
The stadium has been 80 per cent reconstructed from last year, with a new frame and seats, but the biggest change, the addition of a roof, will not be in place until 2020.
“Probably by next year (there’s) going to be a bigger difference,” said Nadal. “This year I don’t see a big difference. I saw the court, still open. The wind (is) going to be the same as always. (The) court is still big. What’s different is probably the stands. That will not have a big impact on the game.”
The other major change has been the expansion of the previously-cramped grounds into the neighbouring botanic gardens – after a protracted political battle – and the building of a unique new court, named Simonne-Mathieu after the champion of the 1930s.
The 5,000-seat court is sunken and surrounded by greenhouses in order to blend into its surroundings. The four greenhouses will between them house more than 1,000 plants, each representing a different continent, and will be open to the public after the tournament.
Bidding to challenge Nadal and Djokovic will be Roger Federer, who returns to Roland Garros for the first time since 2015 having made his return to clay in Madrid.
The women’s tournament once again looks a lot more open, although the favourite will be defending champion Simona Halep, the leading clay-court talent of her generation.
Naomi Osaka will be the top seed at a grand slam for the first time as she chases the third leg of a ‘Naomi Slam’ but the 21-year-old is still finding her feet on clay and it would be a surprise if she manages to continue her winning run at the majors.
Among the other fancied challengers are Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens, who has had a superb 18 months and is now ranked fourth, and Rome champion Karolina Pliskova, who will be the second seed.
Serena Williams has played an even lighter schedule than usual because of a left knee problem but has shown many times that she can hit the heights at the slams with virtually no build-up.