It’s slow, slippery and arduous: the red clay of Roland Garros. It brings out unpredictability on the women’s side and complete dominance from a special Spaniard on the men’s. Over the weekend, the second grand slam of the tennis season began in the city of love with 128 players competing for the championship in each field, but who will leave the courts of Paris with the trophy?
For the men’s tournament, you can look no further than three-time defending champion and third seed Rafael Nadal. The “King of Clay” is searching for his record eighth French Open title, a feat no man or woman has ever completed. Since missing the Australian Open due to a knee injury, the red dirt juggernaut has won six of the eight tournaments he’s contested including a sweep of the two main clay lead-ups in Rome and Madrid.
Drawn into Nadal’s half, No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic heads into Roland Garros as the only man that can derail the Spaniard’s historic run. If seedings hold, the pair is headed for a semifinal showdown that in essence is the final. The bottom half is headed by Federer, David Ferrer, Tomas Berdych and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. No man or woman was blessed with a better draw than Federer. The Swiss won’t face Nadal or Djokovic until the final and faces two qualifiers in his opening rounds before a potential semifinal match against Ferrer, who he has an 14-0 record against.
On the women’s side, World No. 1 Serena Williams takes a career-high 24-match winning streak into a tournament that has had five different champions in five years. Since her shocking first-round loss at the 2012 French Open, Williams has blazed to a 67-3 record, winning 10 of 13 tournaments including Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the Year-End Championships. Her movement and patience has improved tremendously on the red dirt while her serve continues to be the most dominant and feared weapon on tour.
Most of Williams’ competition is situated in the bottom half of the draw. Second- and third-seeded Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka as well as former Grand Slam champion Li Na, Samantha Stosur and Petra Kvitova are nestled in a star-heavy field. Defending champion Sharapova is the favorite to advance as the former self-proclaimed “cow on ice” benefits from the extra time the dirt provides her groundstrokes compared to other surfaces.
As the slam season gets underway, the clay of Roland Garros will serve as a reminder of the fun summer of tennis to come.