A Month Out from French Open, Here’s What You Need to Know

TOPSHOT - Spain's Carlos Alcaraz (L) and Serbia's Novak Djokovic shake hands at the end of their 2022 ATP Tour Madrid Open tennis tournament men's singles semi-final match at the Caja Magica in Madrid on May 7, 2022. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP) (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP via Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Spain's Carlos Alcaraz (L) and Serbia's Novak Djokovic shake hands at the end of their 2022 ATP Tour Madrid Open tennis tournament men's singles semi-final match at the Caja Magica in Madrid on May 7, 2022. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP) (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP via Getty Images) /

Novak Djokovic is the favorite of almost every tournament he plays at this stage of his career. He ranks No. 1 in the world amid the heart of clay court season despite having been denied entry to the United States to participate in the U.S. Open last fall or the Miami Open this March over vaccine status. Djokovic is still in his prime and is an odds-on favorite to win his 23rd major title a month from now at the 2023 French Open.

Djokovic currently has +162 odds to win the title according to Vegas Insider. The otherworldly Serb has made a career of consistency on all surfaces and made the final of Roland-Garros in 2020 and 2021, winning the latter. But this year, perhaps more than any in recent history, will be a great opportunity for the clay court championship to come home to the “Djoker” trophy cabinet with a certain competitor on the mend.

However, he shares the nomination of French Open title favorite with fire-cracking nineteen-year-old majesty Carlos Alcaraz. Only 19, Alcaraz has experience winning grand slams after conquering a topsy-turvy 2022 US Open where he needed a fifth set to win each of his Round of 16, quarterfinals and semifinals.

Now battle-tested, Alcaraz has continued to take the pro tour by storm this year, and the likes of Andy Murray and Daniil Medvedev report he is at the pinnacle of the sport. Murray went as far as to say the Spaniard may be at the top of the game for as long as he plays. Early returns on their statements have proven them correct.

Alcaraz is fresh off Indian Wells Masters and Barcelona Open championships, both in which he cruised to titles without dropping a set. His 20th birthday will be on May 5, and the young gun will try to represent the sport’s change of guard with another major. Djokovic’s main competition may for once be in the form of a Spaniard not named Nadal, but all three could conceivably win the tournament.

Nadal has nothing left to prove at the French or on the surface in general as his excellence is known even by non-sports fans. He is the most winning player at any of the four majors in the history of the sport and has already accumulated 14 Roland-Garros titles. Nadal’s historic excellence at the tournament and unthinkable record of 14-0 in French Open finals will be narratives to follow as he progresses through the tournament.

This is of course assuming that he will suit up for the tournament. Nadal has been bothered all year by a hip injury and has not played since the second round of the Australian Open this January. If he is to compete for the Roland-Garros title, he may have to do so while injured, which would be a great thread to watch.

But the biggest storyline of this tournament will undoubtedly still be the grand slam titles race. Djokovic has been in hot pursuit of Nadal and Roger Federer since 2014 having won 15 grand slams since then. Make some popcorn if Djokovic has to go through Nadal, and vice versa, for number 23.

The Big Three have been very stingy with these big titles. Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have won 60-71 (84.5%) of the grand slams since the 2005 French Open. But, alongside recent champion Alcaraz in producing upset slam victories are thinking-man’s tennis player Daniil Medvedev and baseline beast Dominic Thiem.

The two are both in the top ten of odds for this year’s edition of Roland-Garros but have very different track records at the tournament. Thiem made at least the quarterfinals for five straight years from 2016 to 2020 and even made two finals in the span, ending as a runner-up to Nadal in 2018 and 2019.

However, since his unique 2020 US Open title, Thiem has fallen off a cliff in terms of performance. Thiem was once known as the “prince of clay” but has instead looked like a peasant in the past two utterances of the French Open, upset by Pablo Andújar in five sets in 2021 and in straight sets to Hugo Dellien in 2022. He has struggled to return to the top of the sport, but his pedigree makes him one of the most interesting players in the tournament.

Medvedev, meanwhile, has openly expressed his despise of the surface after underperforming continuously for years. He incredibly had a four-year-long failure to make it past the first round, but that finally changed in 2021, a year he was able to win his way into the quarterfinals. However, Medvedev was quickly dismantled by Stefanos Tsitsipas to end his clay court season that year, and he lost in the fourth round last year once again in disappointing fashion to Marin Cilic.

The reason Medvedev is still important is that he can beat anyone when he puts his mind to it. Medvedev has five career victories against Djokovic, one coming on clay in Monte-Carlo in 2019, and one victory a piece against Nadal and Alcaraz. He can beat the big guns. Medvedev’s style is mind-numbingly effective, and he typically succeeds by winning ugly, both of which should be conducive to early-round success in majors.

Also of note are proven clay court commodity Stefanos Tsitsipas and brash youngster Jannik Sinner. Tsitsipas made the final of the 2021 French Open and has won the Monte-Carlo Masters twice, so he shouldn’t be counted out. And Sinner has made at least the fourth round of each of the past six majors, also making the final of this year’s Miami Masters.

This year’s French Open should be filled with more intrigue than any recent edition of the tournament, and there are three clear favorites and a host of about a dozen players that truly have a chance to win. If there’s a year to watch Roland-Garros and not be confident in a victor, it’s 2023.