The French Open begins Sunday. As with any other Grand Slam, the pre-event buzz has been running wild this week. Here is a look at the most noteworthy storylines as the road to Roland Garros winds down.
The Murky Gets Murkier:
As noted in a previous article, the race for this year’s ladies trophy in Paris is wide open. It has become even more so in the last few days. The safest bet to make a deep run and perhaps win it all in the French capital had been Romanian Simona Halep.
However, the Madrid champion injured her ankle in the final of Rome and has revealed she tore ligaments. She now describes her chances of playing as “50/50.” Even so, it is now easier to envision her joining names like Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, and Victoria Azarenka on the sidelines or an early round exit than it is being in the mix to win the most grueling event in the sport.
Unfortunately, Halep is not alone. Defending French Open champion Garbiñe Muguruza retired from the Rome semifinals citing a knee injury during warm-ups. Muguruza has battled injuries and poor play all year long. While she has said she fully intends to answer the bell in Paris, any injury concern is a huge deal when getting ready to defend a Grand Slam title.
Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki is nursing a bad back that forced a withdraw from Rome and a retirement at a smaller event this week. The former World No. 1 described the withdrawal is precautionary. For someone who has never gone beyond the quarterfinals in Paris, the signs coming from Wozniacki and her support team simply are not good right now.
While a case could be made for the names mentioned so far as title contenders if everything was clicking, Eugenie Bouchard and Laura Siegemund fell more into the “dangerous floater” category. Siegemund is knocking on the door of the top 25 and has won a clay-court title this year.
She would have been a seed in Paris, but was stretchered off the court on home soil in Germany this week after injuring her knee in a mid-match fall and has withdrawn.
Bouchard appeared to be headed back towards the top of the game after knocking off Sharapova and Angelique Kerber in Madrid, but Bouchard suffered the same injury as Halep in practice. Her status for the year’s second major is in doubt.
This year’s French Open may truly be a case of last woman standing. The one bit of good injury news has come from two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova. The massive hitting lefty has not played this year after being injured in a home invasion knife attack.
The Czech is flying to Paris and will announce her decision on playing Friday. While it is tough to imagine Kvitova as a legitimate title contender, the fact that a player of her caliber is going to return at some point in the near future after such a horrific ordeal is fantastic news.
As newsy as the ladies tour has been, the men’s tour has been just as quiet ahead of the French Open. The one massive exception is the news that bad boy turned beloved icon Andre Agassi is the new coach of struggling world No. 2 Novak Djokovic. Their partnership will start on one of the biggest stages in the sport.
Djokovic showed signs of his old self reaching the final in Rome without a coach. It was his first significant run at a noteworthy event all year. Agassi’s career had more ups and downs than anyone.
With Andy Murray struggling, Roger Federer absent, and Rafael Nadal showing he is human with a loss in Rome, Agassi could be the perfect guy to get the Serb in the right frame of mind to defend his title. No one knows how this combination will pan out. However, any time two combustible personalities like Agassi and Djokovic are brought together, it certainly creates intrigue.
The French Open starts Sunday at 5 AM ET. I will have previews and predictions for both draws once they are made public.