This article first appeared in the May/June 2021 issue of Long Island Tennis Magazine. Click Here to access the full digital issue.
The second Grand Slam of 2021 gets underway this weekend in the City of Love as the best players in the world arrive in Paris for the French Open.
The weather should be more suitable for players this year, competing in the French summer as opposed to the fall. Long Island Tennis Magazine broke down some contenders (not including Rafael Nadal, as we can all agree the 13-time French Open champion is always a contender), pretenders and sleepers for the men’s and women’s singles events at the world’s premier clay-court tournament:
Iga SwiatekPhoto Credit: Simon Bruty/USTA
The tournament’s defending champion, Swiatek has already proven she has what it takes to go deep at Grand Slams, especially on the Parisian clay. She recently proved her might on clay once again by capturing the title at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia in Rome, where she beat the likes of Elina Svitolina, Karolina Pliskova, Coco Gauff and Madison Keys. Look for Swiatek to put up a strong title defense at the French Open this year.
The Spaniard is one of those players that no opponent hopes to see when they look at the draw sheet. Garbine Muguruza is a former champion at the French Open, claiming the title in 2016. The following year, she won her second major title at Wimbledon, but injuries halted her progress over the next couple of years. Muguruza has since returned to that previous form and is once again a contender at any major, reaching the Aussie Open finals in 2020, and is a big-hitter who is successful on clay, making her a very dangerous opponent.
The fifth-ranked player in the world is still in search of his first career major title, but he is on the verge. Earlier this year, Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas reached his second Australian Open semifinal where he recorded an epic comeback win over Nadal, and a year ago he reached the semifinals at the French Open. Tsitsipas has the all-court game to be successful on clay and has backed that up with two of his six career singles titles coming on clay. Having defeated him already this season, Tsitsipas could challenge Nadal in the late stages of this tournament.
A motivated Dominic Thiem will be at the French Open this year, as the Austrian has indicated that winning the event this year is his main goal. After playing a significant tournament schedule a year ago, Thiem admitted to a bit of burnout and has not been as active in 2021. He has also been dealing with some nagging injuries but will be ready for Roland Garros. In addition to being one of the best players in the world overall, he is perhaps the second best clay court player, and with fresh legs and strong motivation, Thiem is a legitimate contender.
It is tough to label someone who has won this event in the past as a “pretender”, but Australia’s Ash Barty is in that category for the 2021 installment of the French Open. She won the Miami Open title earlier this year, a hard-court event, but lost to Spain’s Paula Badosa in a surprise exit from the Volvo Car Open in Charleston, a clay event. Barty’s clever tactical game and unique playing style can present opponents with a lot of trouble on clay, but her serve can let her down at times, and the lack of success on that shot could play a major factor in her getting upset.
The American has shot up the rankings and rightfully so as Sofia Kenin has been one of the best players in the world over the last couple of years. But 2021 has not been as kind to the 22-year-old thus far. As she attempted to defend her Australian Open title, she lost in the second round, and since that event she has won only one match. She lost in the opening round of her first two clay-court events in preparation for Roland Garros, and that trend may continue as we head into the French Open.
Daniil MedvedevPhoto Credit: Brian Coleman/NY Tennis Magazine
Few players are more honest than Daniil Medvdev, and he is often very forthright when speaking to the media, which is why you should believe him when he says he hates playing on clay. He said recently, “There is nothing I like on clay”, and his track record bears that out. He has never made it out of the first round at the French Open, and despite being ranked second in the world, could be on upset alert early at Roland Garros. As a player who hits a flat ball, Medvedev has never been successful on the clay surface, and doesn’t like playing on it, not a good combination for success.
In contrast to Medvedev, Diego Schwartzman is someone who does enjoy competing on the clay, but don’t look for the Argentine to make a deep run in Paris this year. He reached the semifinals at the French Open a year ago, his best showing at the event in his career, but has been up- and-down so far in 2021. He lost in his first clay court match of the season, a straight-set defeat at the hands of Casper Rudd in Monaco, and his inconsistent play in 2021 coupled by a lack of a huge offensive weapon means Schwartzman could be due for an early exit at the French Open.
One of the feel good stories in tennis in recent years is the return of Petra Kvitova to the tour, and her return to the form she had before she was attacked in her home in 2016. That return to form led to Kvitova reaching the semifinals at the French Open last year, and look for the 10th ranked Kvitova to still be competing into the late stages of the 2021 event. She is a two-time major champion, and has the type of all-court game that makes her a frustrating player to play against. Of her eight career titles, three have come on clay, something that should inspire confidence in the Czech left-hander.
Amanda AnisimovaPhoto Credit: Brian Coleman/NY Tennis Magazine
Checking in at 38th in the WTA rankings, Amanda Anisimova is the true definition of a sleeper heading into the French Open. Still just a teenager, the American burst onto the scene in 2018, and the following year she powered her way to the semifinals at Roland Garros. That same year, she won her first career title. Last year can be viewed as an anomaly and injuries, plus the pandemic, resulted in Anisimova not playing as many matches as 2019. But just one year removed from reaching the final four in Paris, Anisimova is a threat to make another deep run at the French Open.
The young Italian has climbed his way inside the Top 20 and is one of the sport’s most promising young stars. He reached the Miami Open final earlier this year, and has already defeated the likes of David Goffin, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev in his career. Sinner has what it takes to compete on the biggest stage and defeat the toughest opponents. Last year, he reached the quarterfinals in Paris and is primed to build on that performance this time around.
Russia’s Andrey Rublev has been one of the top players on tour in 2021 and has risen up to seventh in the world rankings. He has posted 24 wins on the tour this year which included a stunning victory over Nadal in Monaco, a clay event that Nadal has notoriously dominated in his career. Rublev is the owner of two clay- court titles in his career, and was a quarterfinalist in Paris last year. Look for the 23-year-old to build on that showing at this year’s event and he’s a serious threat to claim the title when all is said and done.
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for Long Island Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at email@example.com.