French Open 2021: Can anyone stop ‘King of Clay’ and make history?

20-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer says he won’t be able to win this time, but Djokovic and Nadal would be wrong in ignoring the Swiss challenge

The French Open was originally scheduled to start on May 23, but was postponed to May 30. Pic: Roland Garros

The main draw of the French Open 2021 begins Sunday (May 30) despite four top-ranking players out of action due to injuries. Among men, Denis Shapovalov, former champion Stan Wawrinka and Borna Coric are missing while in the women’s World No. 3 Simona Halep pulled out at the last moment.

However, fans (only limited numbers allowed) at the Roland Garros can expect their share of fun and excitement with four legends of tennis – World No1 Novak Djokovic, 20-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer, ‘King of Clay’ World No. 3 Rafael Nadal and 23-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams – vying for the titles. As per a BBC report, only visitors with a ‘health passport’ – proof of a recent negative test, a vaccine certificate or proof of antibodies – will be allowed to enter.

The French Open was originally scheduled to start on May 23, but was postponed to May 30.

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Djokovic, Federer and Nadal are placed in the same group, which means fans may see a new finalist this time. Nadal looks the favourite to win the title after Federer said he is “realistic in thinking he will not win the French Open this time”.

World No. 1 Novak Jokovic.

“I’m just realistic that I know I will not win the French and whoever thought I would or could win it is wrong. Of course crazier things might have happened, but I’m not so sure in the past 50 years at the French Open somebody just rocked up at 40 years old being out for a year and a half and [went] on to just win,” said the 39-year-old Swiss after losing his opening match at the Gonet Geneva Open last week against Pablo Andujar.

Federar has had two arthroscopic right knee surgeries in the recent past, which gives an impression that he may not be a tough opponent to World No1 Novak Djokovic, whom he is likely to meet in the quarter-finals.

Though the Swiss loves grass and hard courts, his record playing on clay is not bad after all. Federer has played the quarter-finals here on 11 out of the 12 appearances. The top player won at Roland Garros in 2009 and since then has made the championship match four times.

Roger Federer. Pic: Roland Garros

Federer is third on the all-time list for the most match wins at Roland Garros with 70, only trailing 13-time winner Rafael Nadal (100) and World No. 1 Novak Djokovic (74).

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Federer has won 75.9 per cent of his all clay-court matches, behind Nadal (91.6%) and Djokovic (79.7%).

Eight seed Federer may have an easy first round as he plays Denis Istomin, whom he had defeated 7-0 in Head2Head record.

In women’s singles, Serena Williams looks keen to laying claim on her 24th Grand Slam title to tie up with the legendary Margaret Court.

THE DRAW

May 30 – June 1: 1st Round – Men’s Singles, Women’s Singles

    June 2 – 3: 2nd Round – Men’s Singles, Women’s Singles

    June 4 – 5: 3rd Round – Men’s Singles, Women’s Singles

    June 6 – 7: 4th Round – Men’s Singles, Women’s Singles

    June 8 -9: Quarter-Final – Men’s Singles, Women’s Singles

    June 10: Semi-Final – Women’s Singles; Men’s Doubles

    June 11: Semi-Final – Men’s Singles; Final – Women’s Doubles

    June 12: Final – Women’s Singles; Men’s Doubles

    June 13: Final – Men’s Singles

Who will proceed to the final – Federer, Djoko or Nadal?

Analysts believe the ‘final’ may just happen in the quarterfinal and semi-final of the men’s draw.

By current seedings, Djokovic may clash against Federer in the quarterfinal. The winner of this match may meet 13-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal in the semi-final. Since Wawrinka is out of the tournament, there’s a possibility that French Open may have a new finalist this time. Austrian Dominic Thiem, who won the US Open in 2020, has been the finalist at Roland Garros three times, but of late his poor form and fitness doesn’t really make him a strong contender for the title.

Rafael Nadal. Pic: Roland Garros

In women’s singles, last year’s finalist Sofia Kenin and 2017 champion Jelena Ostapenko meet in the first round.

Defending champion Iga Swiatek is in the same quarter as former world No.1 and 2016 winner Garbine Muguruza. Karolina Pliskova and Elina Svitolina, who have done well professionally but not in the Grand Slams, too are set for a clash to watch for.

Three-time French title winner Serena Williams’ first tough encounter may not happen before round three where she meets former World No.1 Angelique Kerber. If Serena sails past Kerber, she will possibly meet two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in the fourth round.

World No. 2 Japan’s Naomi Osaka isn’t the most favourite at the French Open. Her best performance at Roland Garros has been a fourth round loss.

In India, French Open matches can be seen on the Star Sports Network, besides the Disney+Hotstar platform.

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