With the tour in Madrid for the first of two final ATP and WTA 1000 lead-in events, Roland Garros is now exactly one month away.
And as it stands, the men’s draw is as open as it’s been in years, while a clear favourite sits ahead of the pack on the women’s side.
Leading Men’s Title Contenders: (3)
For the first time in his Grand Slam career, Carlos Alcaraz will likely arrive in Paris as the title favourite - and for good reason.
It will be the 19-year-old’s first major since his US Open triumph last year - and this time won’t be any easier, with Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal likely standing in his way.
But one month out, Alcaraz is clearly the most in-form player in men’s tennis – now 23-2 this year after defending his ATP 500 title in Barcelona.
However, the teenager has not faced Djokovic or Nadal since Madrid last year and is yet to meet either at a major – a test he’ll likely need to pass en route to the title.
No matter the circumstances, Nadal will always be a leading contender at Roland Garros.
We all know of his dominance – fourteen times champion with just three career losses. It’s as good as any record in sport.
But while the last few years have seen Nadal defy some expectations to triumph on Court Philippe-Chatrier, 2023 will take his greatest effort to date.
If not for the 36-year-old’s heroics in the past, he simply wouldn’t be in consideration this year.
Just 2-7 in his last nine encounters and 1-3 this season, the Spaniard will enter the French Open ranked outside the ATP top-10 for the first time in his career.
He’s also yet to hit the clay in 2023, pulling out of Monte-Carlo, Barcelona, and Madrid, while holding out hope of playing in Rome ahead of Paris.
It will take an all-time sporting feat for Nadal to raise his fifteenth Roland Garros next month – but you’d be very brave to rule him out.
Djokovic’s start to the clay season has been far from perfect.
Early losses to Lorenzo Musetti and Dusan Lajovic in Monte Carlo and Banja Luka – and an elbow injury – have taken some expectation off the 22-time major champion.
But Djokovic’s ability to perform at Roland Garros has been consistently elite – reaching sixteen quarterfinals in the last seventeen years and losing almost exclusively to Nadal, on eight separate occasions.
The Serbian hasn’t lost to a player outside the top-5 at a Grand Slam since 2018, so you can expect him to ease into the second week – and create the possibility of a major clash with Alcaraz or Nadal.
Need everything to go right:
Stefanos Tsitsipas has shown he is capable of making the deepest of Grand Slam runs, but with a 0-4 head-to-head against Alcaraz and 10 straight losses to Djokovic, the Greek would need a very kind draw to lift his first major next month.
Holger Rune may be the biggest dark-horse in the men’s draw. A quarter-final on debut last year and a strong run of form over the past fortnight suggest he is more than capable of causing a major upset – and possibly even going the distance.
Jannik Sinner has shown he is strong on the surface and can consistently work his way into the second week of majors. However, the Italian is yet to reach a Grand Slam semi-final and would need twenty-one of his best sets to raise the trophy.
Andrey Rublev, fresh off a maiden Masters 1000 title in Monte-Carlo, should be more confident than ever ahead of Roland Garros. But like Sinner, reaching the final four of a Grand Slam remains the first milestone for Rublev to achieve.
Alexander Zverev will also be an interesting watch, returning to Roland Garros for the first time since *that* epic, three-hour-and-seven-minute semi-final with Nadal. His level last year was just about good enough, but right now, the German is far from his best.
Leading Women’s Title Contender: (1)
Swiatek is a clear favourite for the women’s title and rightly so.
The 21-year-old is:
22-1 in her last 23 clay matches.
18-1 in her last 19 Roland Garros matches.
76-10 in her last 86 tennis matches.
29-3 vs top-20 players in that 86-game stretch.
It’s pure dominance over the women’s tour, which saw Swiatek claim the Stuttgart title last week, to kick off her 2023 clay season.
Right now, it appears that it is Iga against the field – and I think many tennis fans would still rather be in the world number one’s corner.
Who can stop Swiatek?
Ons Jabeur may realistically need a separate category as the second favourite to Swiatek. Given that Roland Garros appears to be a contest of ‘who can beat Iga’ as much as ‘who can win the title’, Jabeur deserves to be in strong consideration. The Tunisian has the strongest clay game of all the other lead contenders – having gone 17-4 on the surface last year – and holds a respectable 2-3 record against Swiatek (in completed matches). However, Jabeur will need to improve on a disappointing first round result from 2022 where she fell to Magda Linette from a set up.
Elena Rybakina’s powerful and aggressive style has never translated as smoothly onto clay courts - going just 18-10 on the surface since the beginning of 2021. However, the 23-year-old has recently displayed an ability to overcome Swiatek, enjoying straight sets wins over the Pole at this year’s Australian Open and Indian Wells.
Aryna Sabalenka achieved a life-long dream of Grand Slam glory in Melbourne this year but has since struggled to find a title on the WTA tour. The Belarusian suffered a third clay loss in twelve months to Swiatek last week – someone she will very likely need to beat on her way to a second consecutive major.
Coco Gauff has struggled for form over the past two months but will defend a final from 2022 at Roland Garros. The 19-year-old made light work of a kind draw last year before falling comfortably to Swiatek – a head-to-head which she now alarmingly trails 0-6.
Others to consider:
30 days out from the second major of 2023, a fascinating French Open lies ahead of us.