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Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

WERDIGER | Why the 2024 French Open Will Be the Most Entertaining of the Decade

In this edition of “Causing a Racquet,” Robbie Werdiger (CAS ’24) previews the top male contenders at the French Open.
Yann Caradec
Long Island Tennis Magazine | Rafael Nadal has dominated the French Open with 14 titles and enters this year’s tournament as a wild card.

When the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) tour transitions from the flashy, American hardcourt grandeur of Indian Wells, Calif, and Miami, Fla., to the scenic, European red clay court swing, it’s more than just the landscape that switches. The rallies become longer and socks become dirtier as the clay court specialists emerge from hibernation to steal the spotlight from the more vulnerable hardcourt pros.

For the last decade, however, one man has dominated the dirt, whipping away all suspense with his 3,200 revolutions per minute (RPM) forehands and backhands, begging only one question: Who’s the next victim? 

That man from Mallorca, Rafael Nadal, has won the French Open an astounding 14 times, amassing a hard-to-comprehend winning percentage of 97.4%. Not to mention, a lifesize steel statue stands in his honor outside the general public entrance gate at Roland Garros — if his play wasn’t intimidating enough.

Beginning with his first French Open title in 2005, Nadal has mastered the earthy surface that leaves a mark with each ball bounce, preserving a bit of history with each shot. Nadal missed the 2023 French Open, as well as most of the past year and a half, suffering from a hip ailment. With little left in his body, Nadal is set to enter the French Open as a wildcard, leaving one of the deepest fields in history wide open.

Never before have so many names been in contention for the second slam of the year — or really any period within the era of the “Big Three”: Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Nadal. The depth of the storylines this year provides a narrative for any fan, including Nadal’s last ride, Djokovic’s 2024 resurgence, Jannik Sinner’s emerging dominance, Carlos Alcaraz’s search for a first title at Roland Garros and Alexander Zverev’s comeback. In what may be the last battle between the old and new guard, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Casper Ruud will also look to break through.

Here are all the contenders:

Recently becoming the world’s oldest No. 1 player, Djokovic has run away with the title of the greatest player of all time. After claiming three Grand Slam crowns in 2023 and coming within a few missed backhands of a fourth at Wimbledon, not even age can halt the Serbian legend’s dominance. 

However, Djokovic has not looked like himself of late, coming off a bruising loss to Sinner at the Australian Open, a tournament he has won 10 times, and a stunning defeat to lucky loser Luca Nardi at Indian Wells. 

A few weeks later, he split ways with Coach Goran Ivanišević. Regardless, Djokovic plays his best tennis at the four Grand Slams and has fresh motivation to show the world that he can keep the young guns at bay for just a little longer. As the defending French Open champion and the only player to beat Nadal at the French Open twice, Djokovic expects nothing less than to hoist the La Coupe des Mousquetaires trophy for a fourth time.

A chief rival to Djokovic, whom he even refers to as the best player in the world, Sinner is playing lights-out tennis. Teaming up with coach Darren Cahill — whose repertoire includes stints with Simona Halep and Lleyton Hewitt — has clearly elevated Sinner’s game, as he has cut down on errors and worked harder in the gym to increase his shot velocity and boost his endurance. Although he has admittedly struggled in the past on clay, in his current form, the Italian is a favorite in nearly all his matches. 

And there is also Alcaraz, who burst onto the scene as the next Nadal-like phenom with his explosive brand of tennis which earned him two major titles. 

Many thought that Alcaraz would snatch the torch from Djokovic, but the 20-year-old Spaniard has yet to consistently find his form this year. However, he did win Indian Wells and has a chance to mentally regroup, with Sinner stealing a bit of the spotlight. Clay may very well emerge as Carlos’ best surface, and he is capable of mixing in an array of dropshots and ferocious groundstrokes to win any tournament. 

In the semifinals of the 2022 French Open, Zverev suffered a horrific ankle injury against Nadal in a match that he was going toe-to-toe with the King of Clay. After a brutal year of rehab, he made the final four again in 2023. 

Still searching for his first Grand Slam, Zverev is back in top form. Paris is the place for the long-desired title to come to fruition.

Also in contention is Stefanos Tsitsipas, who has made the news more recently for his relationship with Paula Badosa rather than for his play on the tennis courts. Although Tsitsipas has fallen out of the top 10, he has historically found the most success on clay and was even up two sets to love against Djokovic in the 2021 French Open final. The Greek wants to get his season back on track and is experienced enough to make it through the finish line.

Finally, don’t discount the Norwegian, Casper Ruud, who defaults to his best game on clay. The two-time French Open finalist failed to win a set in either championship and has struggled to elevate his game against those ranked ahead of him. In a year of unknowns, perhaps Ruud’s steadiness will earn him a third trip to the final.

In what should be an exciting French Open, tune into the tournament, which runs from May 20 to June 9 this year.

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