Djokovic? Nadal? Swiatek? Jabeur? The big talking points ahead of Roland-Garros 2022 – updated with player interviews
From the race for most Grand Slams, to a young Spaniard trying to take the next step up and a Pole looking to assert her supremacy, here are the main talking points as we go into this year’s event
This year’s Roland-Garros is an opportunity for many players to make their mark, from the battle between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic for supremacy at the top of the Grand Slam list, to Iga Swiatek’s bid for a second French Open title in three years and Carlos Alcaraz and Maria Sakkari trying to make the next step up by bagging one of the biggest titles in the sport.
Here are some of the biggest storylines to follow over the next fortnight:
Can Novak Djokovic equal Nadal with 21 slams?
Can Novak Djokovic equal Nadal with 21 slams?
It’s amazing how quickly things change in sport. When Novak Djokovic lost to Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in his first match in Monte-Carlo last month, winning a third Roland-Garros title seemed a long shot at best. But the world No 1 has picked his game up steadily to the point where, in Rome, he looked back to his best.
Djokovic, just turned 35, starts a deserved favourite in Paris to retain the crown he won 12 months ago but there are threats everywhere, from Nadal and Alcaraz to Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev. Over best of five, he’s the man to beat again, but he’s admitted that it’s taken time to get what happened to him in Australia out of his mind and the question is whether he channels that to win again or whether the pressure gets to him as the fortnight progresses.
“It took me two tournaments to really, you know, feel that I’m getting closer to desired level. I reached that level in Rome,” Djokovic said on Friday.
“I hadn’t dropped a set there and won the tournament. Rome has been a very successful tournament for me in my career, and it was really coming at the right time. I always managed to get to the later stages of that tournament in just the week before Paris, perfect time to really find form.”
Will Rafael Nadal be fit enough to compete for a 14th title?
Anyone who saw Nadal bending over double in Rome last time out will have their doubts, and the simple fact of the matter is, we probably won’t know until the tournament is complete. Last year, Nadal looked strong until he ran into Djokovic in the semi-finals, a breathtaking match that propelled the Serb to the title and left Nadal’s left foot in tatters.
The Spaniard has carried left foot trouble throughout his career and dealt with it incredibly well. He says it often gets better by playing more, which sounds counter-intuitive but if he says so, then we have to go with it. As a 13-time French Open winner and the undoubted King of Clay, he’ll be a huge threat, of course, if the foot allows and as he showed at the start of the year, he knows how to win slams. The difference between January and now is that then, it seemed odds-on Nadal would win Roland-Garros again; now it’s up in the air.
“Unfortunately here I didn’t have the preparation that I would like, and unfortunately that rib fracture stop a little bit the great moment that I was having since the season start,” Nadal said on Friday.
“But in sport, things can change quick, and only thing that I can do is try to be ready if that change happens. No, today looks difficult and looks that there are players that are in better shape than me, without a doubt, and is true today, but you never know what can happen in the next couple of days.
“Same happened in Australia, and I put myself in a position to have a chance. And here is no different. Only thing I have to do is…believe in my daily work, and then stay positive and believe in my real chances.”
Is Carlos Alcaraz ready to win his first Grand Slam title?
It’s a leap of faith, of sorts, since Alcaraz has so far not made it past the quarter-finals of a slam but the 19-year-old believes he’s ready for it and after beating Nadal, Djokovic and then Zverev in Madrid, his game looks there.
Performing at that high level over two weeks, best of five sets, is another matter and it’s possible he could run himself into the ground if he runs into too many big names, one after the other. But we only have to look back to 2005 when another 19-year-old arrived on the scene at Roland-Garros for the first time and duly won the title.
That was Rafael Nadal. Now his heir apparent in Spain looks ready and some people are making him the favourite. Can he handle that pressure?
Will Stefanos Tsitsipas go one better than he did in 2021?
The Greek is still chasing his first Grand Slam title but he came awfully close last year, when he led Djokovic by two sets to love in the final only to wilt as the world No 1 roared back for victory.
Since then, Tsitsipas has had his injury problems but he’s enjoyed a good clay-court season, winning Monte-Carlo for the second year in a row and making the semis in Barcelona and the final in Rome.
Getting over the line in a slam is proving tricky but he’s had a taste of a final and is as motivated as anyone to go one step further.
” I have shown good tennis here. I have shown good tennis in the last couple of tournaments. I didn’t really show my best tennis in the final few days ago,” Tsitsipas said on Friday.
“I don’t look far into the tournament, because I like to stay present and take every single match at a time. That’s the best way to do it, in my opinion. When you’re overconfident, that can turn against you. When you’re not confident, can also turn against you.
“So looking for that sweet balance is the key for me. It comes with my daily routines. It comes with the feedback that I receive and analysis that I do and the implementation of it on the court in practice, and that’s where I know my current state, which right now is at a good level. I need to start playing matches in order to evaluate that in the best possible way.”
Will Iga Swiatek confirm her supremacy with second RG title?
When Ash Barty announced her surprise retirement in March, the big question was whether any woman would be able to have the consistency and ability to dominate the women’s game.
With 28 straight wins and five titles in 2022, the Pole has answered with an emphatic yes. A year and a half on from her first Roland-Garros title, which came out of the blue, world No 1 Swiatek is a dominant, confident, relentless figure, with more power, more experience, more nous than ever.
Mentally strong and able to find her way through tricky situations, Swiatek possesses everything a player needs to win slams. And the great thing is; she’s already won one, which will take away some of the pressure should she make it through to the latter stages again. If she plays as she has done this year, it will take a massive effort from any of the rest of the field to stop her.
“I haven’t played a Grand Slam since the streak started,” the Pole told reporters on Friday.
“So I guess we’re gonna see if everything I have been doing before is going to be enough. But I have really positive thoughts. Honestly, a couple of times during all these tournaments I was already stressed about that, and I was able to work through it and do a really good job by just focusing on tennis. So hopefully I’m going to be able to continue that.”
Can Ons Jabeur make Arab history with first slam?
Ons Jabeur has been making history for Tunisia and for Arab tennis ever since she graduated from the juniors to the WTA Tour. At times, the pressure on her shoulders must have been overwhelming and going into 2022, she had still won just one title, losing five other finals.
But her victory this year in Madrid put many of the doubts away and with her brilliant all-round game, with touch and power, aligned with ever-improving athleticism, Jabeur is riding a wave of confidence now that could take her all the way in her favourite tournament.
“I love playing in Paris, I love playing on this kind of clay. Hopefully continuing with the great results,” she told reporters on Friday.
“My main goal is to be in the second week, for sure. I will be happy if I make it to the semi-finals…I’m expecting to go further really and enjoy my time here, bring up the level that I want to play with and hopefully will be great results.”
Will Maria Sakkari overcome her nerves to win a first slam?
Last year, Maria Sakkari got herself to within one point of the French Open final only to blink at the last moment, allowing Barbora Krejcikova to go on and win her first slam.
Since then, Sakkari has consolidated her place in the world’s top 10 and her game is perfectly suited to clay, even if she might be just as good on hard courts. After an excellent first few months of the year, she comes into Paris not with the best set of results but memories of last year could well spur her on again. The question for Sakkari, as ever, is how she handles the big moments at the business end of the biggest matches.
Is Krejcikova in shape to defend her title?
Few people would have picked Barbora Krejcikova to win the singles title last year and perhaps fewer will be doing so this time, as the Czech arrives in Paris having not played competitively for over two months because of an elbow injury.
However, returning to the place where you had the best moment of your career can do wonders and if Krejcikova steps out to play her first match, then perhaps she will quickly rediscover the form she showed in that wondrous march to the title 12 months ago. It’s asking a lot, but nothing, as she showed last year, is impossible.
“I’m healthy right now,” she told reporters on Friday. “I’m here, and, yeah, it’s amazing, you know, to start at the place where I won my first slam last year. So I’m looking forward to, yeah, to build up with matches and to get back to the form.”