No Fed­erer, Ser­ena, Maria, no prob­lem

New Straits Times - - Sport -

PARIS: Roland Gar­ros or­gan­is­ers are con­fi­dent that the ab­sence from the 2017 French Open of Roger Fed­erer, Ser­ena Wil­liams and Maria Shara­pova will just be a foot­note when the story of the sec­ond ma­jor of the sea­son is told.

“The ab­sence of these three stars does not weaken the tour­na­ment be­cause Roland Gar­ros re­mains an in­sti­tu­tion and the Holy Grail for a player,” French tennis his­to­rian Jean-Christophe Pif­fau said.

“The Grand Slam tour­na­ments are an­chored in the his­tory of tennis, which is what makes them both spe­cial and prized.”

With that in mind, we look at the sto­ry­lines likely to dom­i­nate the French Open which starts on Sun­day:

THIS year Nadal has cap­tured a 10th Monte Carlo Masters and 10th ti­tle in Barcelona; now the great Spa­niard tar­gets what many in the sport thought was im­pos­si­ble — a 10th Roland Gar­ros.

The cham­pion in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014, Nadal, now 30, was writ­ten off when he lost to No­vak Djokovic in the 2015 quar­ter-fi­nals, end­ing a 39-match win streak in Paris since his shock de­feat to Robin Soder­ling in 2009.

Last year, he played two rounds be­fore a wrist in­jury forced an early with­drawal.

But he has been re­ju­ve­nated in 2017, reach­ing the Aus­tralian Open and Miami fi­nals and win­ning in Madrid for a record­e­qualling 30th Masters ti­tle.

WHEN Djokovic com­pleted the ca­reer Grand Slam by win­ning his first Roland Gar­ros ti­tle in 2016, the Serb held all four ma­jors at the same time.

But the for­mer World No 1 has — by his stan­dards — strug­gled since, ad­mit­ting mo­ti­va­tion has been a prob­lem.

There were signs of life when he reached the Rome Masters fi­nal last week­end where his de­feat was soon rel­e­gated in sig­nif­i­cance by his ap­point­ment of US leg­end An­dre Agassi as his new coach.

The an­nounce­ment came in the wake of Djokovic part­ing with long-time coach Mar­ian Va­jda ear­lier this month, hav­ing also ended a three-year re­la­tion­ship with Boris Becker at the end of last sea­son.

Eight-time ma­jor win­ner Agassi, who has only com­mit­ted to the French Open so far, has never coached at such a level be­fore and has been away from the sport for more than a decade since re­tir­ing in 2006.

WHO will be the 2017 women’s cham­pion? Who knows? The cham­pi­ons from 2010 to 2015 — Ser­ena Wil­liams (2013 and 2015), Maria Shara­pova (2012 and 2014), Li Na (2011) and Francesca Schi­avone (2010) — are ab­sent.

De­fend­ing cham­pion Gar­bine Mugu­ruza of Spain picked up a neck in­jury in Rome and has won just two matches on clay all sea­son.

World No 1 An­gelique Ker­ber’s best run was a 2012 quar­ter-fi­nal spot. This clay­court sea­son, the Ger­man lost first time out at Rome hav­ing re­tired with a back in­jury af­ter two matches in Madrid.

Si­mona Halep, the 2014 run­ner-up in Paris and win­ner in Madrid this year be­fore be­ing a los­ing fi­nal­ist in Rome, looks the most likely cham­pion-in-wait­ing — just.

OUT of ac­tion since in­jur­ing her left hand fight­ing off a knifewield­ing bur­glar at her home in De­cem­ber, two-time Wim­ble­don cham­pion Kvi­tova may yet still be a late-en­try into Roland Gar­ros where she was a semi-fi­nal­ist in 2012.

She’d be a pop­u­lar cham­pion as would be Juan Martin del Potro, the gi­ant Ar­gen­tine whose huge po­ten­tial, il­lus­trated by his 2009 US Open vic­tory, should have been the first chap­ter in a Grand Slam suc­cess story.

How­ever, an agonising se­ries of wrist in­juries pushed him to the brink of re­tire­ment be­fore a come­back last year saw him reach the Olympics fi­nal.

Prac­ti­cally un­playable on his day, Del Potro was a semi-fi­nal­ist in Paris in 2009 but last played the tour­na­ment in 2012, los­ing a two sets lead to go down to Roger Fed­erer in the quar­ter-fi­nals.

Del Potro is ranked 30 this week; 12 months ago, he was down at 233. AFP

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