Professional tennis has not enjoyed nearly the same viewership in recent years as major team sports such as football or basketball. General sports fans are typically unaware of anything happening in the sport unless it appears as a top story on ESPN. That being said, what tennis lacks in viewership, it is more than capable of making up in story lines and intrigue. With the French open just about to begin, the tournament offers numerous aspects that all fans can appreciate. Here are five reasons all sports fans should pay attention to this years French Open.
It’s no secret that the clay court season has not started out well for the two top players in the world. Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic (numbers one and two respectively) have been bounced before reaching the final of both Mutua Madrid and Rome. In both tournaments Murray was beaten by an unseeded player, losing to Borna Coric in Madrid and Fabio Fognini in Rome. The fact that the top players are vulnerable opens the door for several other players looking to contend. Among these names are Kei Nishikori, Juan Martin Del Potro, and Stanislas Wawrinka.
The New Class
Over the past decade, the top four players in the world have monopolized grand slams. In fact, a player named Murray, Djokovic, Federer, or Nadal has only won a major five times since 2006. This may be about to change due to the new crop of talented young players looking to usurp the world’s best. Two guys that have had success so far this spring are Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev. Thiem made it to the final of Madrid (losing to Rafael Nadal) and got to the semi-final of Rome (losing to Novak Djokovic). Zverev has defeated an impressive array of opponents this spring including Marin Cilic, Thomas Berdych, Stan Wawrinka, John Isner, and Novak Djokovic. This is a pretty solid list considering three of these players are former grand slam champions. Zverev is coming off his first ever masters 1,000 tournament win after defeating Djokovic in Rome. Both of these players along with others such as Nick Kyrios, Lucas Pouille, and Jack Sock are ready to make it big in the second major of the year.
Wide Open Draw
In years past, the big four have reigned supreme in the men’s draw and Serena Williams has owned the women’s side. This year things are a little different. As mentioned before, both Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic are struggling which means almost anyone in the top 25 has a chance to make a deep run.
On the Women’s side Serena Williams is out, Sharapova didn’t make the cut after returning from her suspension, and Angelique Kerber (number one in the world) has also played some poor matches as of late. In addition, the red clay slows the ball down which takes away the advantage of power hitters. This could work out well for quicker and more defense oriented players such as Agi Radwanska or Carla Suarez-Navarro.
Americans On Clay
Does anybody out there want an underdog to root for? If so, cheer for any of the American Men’s tennis players at the French Open. American men have had a traditionally difficult time on the clay. In fact, nobody has even made it close to a final from the good ole USA since Andre Agassi won it in 1999. Americans typically struggle on the slower surfaces like clay since their games are usually predicated on big serves and aggressive ground strokes which are both neutralized by the dirt. The surface makes pace easier to return and favors players that grind and continue to get the ball back in play. America’s best hope in this tournament is most 14th seeded Jack Sock. Sock has the same style of play as most Americans but moves better than some of the taller guys like Isner or Querrey.
American women have had significantly more success on clay, however, most of that success belongs to one player: Serena Williams. In Serena’s absence it’s up to 11th seeded Venus Williams, 13th seeded Madison Keys, and 20th ranked Coco Vandewegh to carry the torch. Venus who is of course the sister of Serena as well as a former grand slam champion looks to build on her recent major success and get back on top while Keys and Vandewegh are both looking for their first major titles. The mix of former champion and young up-and-comers means there is still plenty of hope that an American woman can win the tile even without Serena.
Possibly the most grand of all the reasons to watch the French open this year is Rafael Nadal. Nadal, who has been king of clay for most of his career is looking to build on what already is an astounding legacy by adding yet another title. He already holds the record for most French open titles all-time with a one win lead over Max Decugis (Amateur era) and three wins over Bjorn Borg (Open era). Nadal already owns a spot among the greatest ever, but it would be that much sweeter to have an even ten titles.
This year’s French Open promises to be an exciting event complete with drama, fanfare and entertainment. With match play scheduled during odd hours do to the European time difference, and a less than reliable TV schedule in the United States, general sports fans don’t often pay attention to the French Open. However, if there was any year to start paying attention, it may be 2017.