This year’s French Open is set to provide plenty of intrigue when it gets under way on Sunday.
On the men’s side, the draw looks wide open following the withdrawal of 14-time champion Rafael Nadal through injury. Novak Djokovic is bidding for a record 23rd grand slam title but he is up against a host of young pretenders, including the world number one Carlos Alcaraz, who appear closer than ever to overthrowing the old guard.
Meanwhile, women’s defending champion Iga Swiatek is likely to face a stiff challenge from Australian Open winner Aryna Sabalenka, with the two having recently contested back-to-back finals in Stuttgart and Madrid.
To predict what might happen at Roland Garros, we have highlighted the key trends from the past 20 tournaments.
Who has the best record at the French Open?
Nadal’s announcement leaves a giant void in the draw, with the Spanish left-hander having suffered only three defeats in his 18 previous visits to the French capital.
Two of those came against Djokovic, who has the best record of any player in his rival’s absence with 85 wins from 101 French Open matches. The 20-year-old Dane Holger Rune – who beat Djokovic only recently in Rome – is next on the list having reached the quarter-finals on his debut appearance in 2022, ahead of Italy’s Jannik Sinner.
Poland’s Swiatek is the closest equivalent to Nadal in the women’s draw, having claimed the title on two of her four appearances at Roland Garros. Worryingly for tennis fans, she is also nursing an injury having retired from her most recent match in Italy with a thigh issue.
Last year’s runner-up to Swiatek, 19-year-old Coco Gauff has won 11 of her 14 matches in Paris and is one of three Americans in the top 10 for win percentage at the French Open, alongside Sloane Stephens and Sofia Kenin who lost in the finals in 2018 and 2020 respectively.
Despite being ranked as second-favourite behind Swiatek, world number two Sabalenka has a poor record on the French clay, having failed to pass the third round in five attempts.
Can anyone break Europe’s dominance?
European players have dominated the men’s and women’s singles at Roland Garros in recent years. Argentina’s Gaston Gaudio was the last non-European male champion back in 2004, while only one of the last seven women’s titles has been won by a player from outside Europe – Australian Ash Barty in 2019.
The men’s game in particular has been dominated by players from this continent – 72 of the previous 80 quarter-finalists have been European, compared with 57 out of 80 women.
Notably, Canada’s Milos Raonic is the only male player from North America with a French Open quarter-final to his name. This is in stark contrast to the women’s tournament, which has seen 10 American or Canadian players follow in the footsteps of three-time champion Serena Williams by making the latter stages on the unfamiliar Parisien clay.
How often do we see an upset?
The underperformance of North American men in the French capital can be partly attributed to the dominance of Nadal and – to a lesser extent – Djokovic over the past decade. As a result of their consistency, only eight different men have played in a Roland Garros final since 2013, compared with 15 women.
Nadal has featured in seven of the last 10 finals, winning on every occasion, while Djokovic has lifted the trophy twice from his five final appearances. Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka is the only other man to win the title in this period, while a further five players have finished as runner-up.
Upsets have therefore been few and far between in the men’s draw, with all of the aforementioned men seeded eighth or better at the start of the event.
By contrast, four of the past six women’s finals have featured an unseeded player, with Barbora Krejcikova (2021), Swiatek (2020) and Jelena Ostapenko (2017) all winning the title when ranked outside the world’s top 32.
The last women’s French Open final played between two of the world’s top eight was in 2016, when the fourth seed Garbine Muguruza beat the top-ranked Williams in straight sets to win her first grand slam title.
How much does experience matter?
Despite the gruelling nature of clay court matches, experience has generally triumphed over youth at Roland Garros over the past decade.
Seven of the previous 10 men’s finals have been won by the older player, including all of the last five. This bodes well for Djokovic – who will turn 36 on the eve of the tournament – as he bids to hold off younger challengers such as Alcaraz, Sinner and Rune.
The average age of women’s finalists since 2013 is 25.2, compared with 29.6 on the men’s side, but even so it is generally the older players who have lifted the trophy. Last year was a case in point, when a 21-year-old Swiatek cruised past the 18-year-old Gauff in straight sets.
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