Benoit Paire claimed his second title in 2019 with a 6-4 6-3 victory over Felix Auger Aliassime in the Lyon Open final on Saturday.

The Frenchman followed up his success in Marrakech last month by triumphing on home soil, in the process denying his teenage opponent a maiden tournament win.

Auger Aliassime, 18, had the opportunity to become the youngest champion on the ATP Tour since Kei Nishikori at Delray Beach in 2008.

However, the fourth-seeded Canadian struggled to impose himself from the outset in a match that lasted one hour and 20 minutes.

"I had a good week even though it didn’t end the way I wanted, not playing the way I wanted or being physically well," Auger-Aliassime said in quotes on the ATP's official website.

"There's disappointment because these finals don't come around often but there's a lot of positives to take from that week. Hopefully I give myself other chances for titles."

As for Paire, he is likely to be nestled inside the world's top 40 of the updated rankings by the time he takes to the court for his first-round clash against Marius Copil at the French Open next week.

Three semi-final defeats and an ATP Masters 1000 title would represent a handsome return from the clay courts for most players heading into the French Open.

But Rafael Nadal is the 'King of Clay', an 11-time Roland Garros champion, and might understandably hold himself to a higher standard.

The Spaniard has lost just twice at the second major of the year in his entire career. He is used to dominating at this time of the season.

Putting Nadal's achievements on the red dirt into context, Simona Halep, the women's defending champion, this week dismissed the idea they could ever be replicated on the WTA Tour.

"I don't see that. Never, ever," she told Omnisport, speaking courtesy of Hublot. "That is unique."

Consequently, failure to collect the Internazionali d'Italia title last week would have represented a crisis of sorts for the world number two.

Nadal had never previously headed to the French Open without a title on clay in the months prior, meaning a trio of last-four losses this year suddenly left him looking vulnerable.

Novak Djokovic was cast aside in Rome, but questions over whether this remains the same supreme Nadal of years gone may linger for some.

But what factors could see Roland Garros' greatest ever champion dethroned?

 

NADAL'S FORM

Nadal's first three clay-court tournaments of 2019 went the same way, starting with what he branded "one of the worst matches" he had ever played on the surface as he lost to Fabio Fognini in straight sets at the Monte Carlo Masters.

The Spaniard was then stunned by the sensational Dominic Thiem at the Barcelona Open, while Stefanos Tsitsipas came up with a huge performance at the Madrid Open.

Nadal belatedly beat a top-20 player on the red dirt for the first time this season in Rome, overcoming Nikoloz Basilashvili and Tsitsipas before downing Djokovic for his first ATP Tour title of the year.

NADAL'S FITNESS

Besides the return to form in Italy, the good news for Nadal in recent months has been the absence of injuries.

The 32-year-old withdrew from the Indian Wells Masters in March due to a knee complaint, continuing a concerning trend of pulling out of high-profile hard-court tournaments in 2018.

Nadal has since completed four consecutive events and has perhaps simply been building his fitness.

 

THE CHALLENGERS

If Nadal is on the wane, there are no shortage of up-and-comers ready to take his place. None of his defeats this year have been flukes, although Fognini remains hugely unpredictable.

Thiem has now beaten Nadal on clay in four consecutive seasons, while Tsitsipas, still just 20, looks to be at the beginning of a career at the very top of the sport.

Elsewhere, Alexander Zverev has not faced Nadal this year but has two clay Masters titles to his name. There are now threats beyond Djokovic and Roger Federer, or the absent Andy Murray.

Being one of the greatest players in the history of tennis brings with it consistently high expectations.

Roger Federer's 20 major titles are unparalleled in the men's game, as are his cumulative 310 weeks spent at the top of the rankings – 237 of which came in succession from February 2, 2004 until August 17, 2008.

The Swiss, now 37 and wise to the impact the rigours of the Tour has on his ageing body, has managed his schedule in recent seasons to enable him to continue competing at the extraordinary levels he set after winning his first grand slam 16 years ago.

He branded taking part at Roland Garros in 2016 an "unnecessary fitness risk" as he struggled with knee and back problems and, never hiding his preference for grass and hard courts, he has not returned until now.

His decision to skip the clay-court swing in 2017 paid dividends in the form of a record eighth Wimbledon title, but after a surprise fourth-round loss to Stefanos Tsitsipas at this year's Australian Open Federer confirmed he would finally be back playing on clay.

"I'm in a phase where I want to have fun. It's a bit of desire. I don't feel it is necessary to have a big break again," said Federer at Melbourne Park.

Fun is exactly what Federer can have at the French Open this year.

Rafael Nadal's dominance of the tournament – the 'King of Clay' is gunning for his 12th title at Roland Garros this year – and Novak Djokovic's incredible resurgence, which could see him hold all four grand slams at the same time for the second time in his career, means they are the overwhelming favourites for success.

For once, Federer, who returns on the 10-year anniversary of the first and only time he got his hands on La Coupe des Mousquetaires, goes into a major without the pressure to succeed that typically accompanies an all-time great.

Clay-court specialist Dominic Thiem and Tsitsipas are favoured more than Federer - who is in the same side of the draw as Nadal - by many bookmakers, while Alexander Zverev is considered to have a similar chance of success as the Swiss.

His odds were unlikely to be helped by a right leg injury that forced him to withdraw from an Internazionali d'Italia quarter-final against Tsitsipas, but Federer had to play two matches in a day 24 hours prior, the second of which went to a third-set tie-break against Borna Coric.

Asked if he can win the French Open, Federer replied: "I don't know. [It's] a bit of a question mark for me. In some ways I feel similar to the Australian Open in 2017 - a bit of the unknown.

"I feel like I'm playing good tennis, but is it enough or is it enough against the absolute top guys when it really comes to the crunch? I'm not sure if it's in my racket.

"But I hope I can get myself in that position deep down in the tournament against the top guys."

On his condition, he added: "Being healthy is really key at this stage of my career, and the last time I have been really badly injured has been basically Montreal two years ago almost.

"I'm very happy [with] how my body has been. There has always been little things going on, like in Rome, but that was also precautionary. I wanted to make sure I was 100 per cent going to be able to play the French Open."

While another icon of the sport Serena Williams continues to struggle with the stresses of matching Margaret Court's all-time record of 24 grand slam titles, Federer arrives at Roland Garros in an environment where he has no such burdens to contend with.

The stage is set for Federer to play with freedom and in an impressive physical state. Regardless of the outcome, his desire for fun will no doubt be satisfied in Paris.

Alexander Zverev will face Nicolas Jarry in his second final of the season after seeing off Federico Delbonis in the Geneva Open.

Zverev has endured a disappointing year, but the world number five could start the French Open next week on the back of his first title in 2019.

The top seed rolled up his sleeves to beat Delbonis 7-5 6-7 (6-8) 6-3 on Friday, blasting down 15 aces and winning 81 per cent of points on his first serve.

Zverev said: "I am very happy with the win. I am very happy to be in the final and [to] give myself an opportunity to win a tournament here.

"I made 15 aces so my serve was doing alright ... [Delbonis] beat great players on this surface already, he has done well on this surface and I think winning against him is a good win."

The unseeded Jarry reached only his second ATP Tour final with a 6-3 6-4 victory over Radu Albot. 

Jarry has not dropped a set this week and the world number 75 stands on the brink of a maiden ATP Tour title.

Felix Auger-Aliassime will also contest his second ATP Tour championship match following a 2-6 7-6 (7-3) 6-4 success against top seed Nikoloz Basilashvili in the Lyon Open.

The 18-year-old Canadian rising star will come up against Benoit Paire, who was a 6-4 6-2 winner in his semi-final with Taylor Fritz on home soil.

Novak Djokovic says the prospect of holding all four grand slam titles simultaneously has given him "extra motivation" to win the French Open.

The world number one has won three consecutive majors since losing to Marco Cecchinato in the quarter-finals at Roland Garros last year.

Djokovic has only been crowned champion on the hallowed clay in Paris once in 2016 – when he completed the career Grand Slam and became the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win four slams in succession – and Rafael Nadal is the favourite to triumph at the tournament for an astonishing 12th time.

Top seed Djokovic will face Hubert Hurkacz in the first round with a fierce determination to continue his major dominance and dethrone 'King of Clay' Nadal, who beat him in the Internazionali d'Italia final last week.

"This is the tournament that I was preparing for. For last couple of months, I wanted to peak in this tournament and this is where I want to play my best tennis," said the Serbian.

"I'm sure I'm not the only one, but for me there is an extra motivation and incentive to win Roland Garros because of the opportunity to hold all four slams, something I did three years ago, and that gives me enough reason to believe I can do it again.

"I love playing in Roland Garros always throughout my career, and especially in the last four or five years I received a lot of support from the French crowd and also the international crowd that comes here.

"And I think because of that support, I also managed to win this title in 2016. Twelve months ago, the situation was quite different; obviously [I was] recovering from an elbow surgery, dropping out of the top 20, and everything that I had to face on the court only 12 months ago.

"Twelve months later I hold three slams and I am number one in the world. It's quite a different feeling approaching the tournament with more confidence, and hopefully I can have a good two weeks."

Roger Federer feels like he is heading into the unknown as he prepares to make his first French Open appearance since 2015

Federer, who will face Lorenzo Sonego in the first round and is in the same half of the draw as 11-time champion Rafael Nadal, skipped the past three editions of the major to focus on grass and hard courts.

Having started 2019 with a disappointing performance in the Australian Open - losing to youngster Stefanos Tsitsipas in the fourth round – the Swiss' form has improved, winning titles in Dubai and Miami either side of losing to Dominic Thiem in the Indian Wells Masters final.

The 37-year-old withdrew from the Internazionali d'Italia due to a right leg injury, though he confirmed the decision was precautionary after rain delays forced him to play two matches in a day.

Federer likened the situation to when he headed to Melbourne Park in 2017, having not played since Wimbledon the previous year due to a knee problem.

"It's a bit of a question mark for me," Federer told a news conference on Friday.

"In some ways I feel similar to the Australian Open in 2017 – a bit of the unknown. I had no expectations.

"I'm just happy to be back in good health. It's more or less the same, and I know that my first opponent will be someone who knows how to play on the clay.

"I feel like I'm playing good tennis, but is it enough against the absolute top guys when it really comes to the crunch? I'm not sure if it's in my racket.

"But I hope I can get myself in that position deep down in the tournament against the top guys. But first I need to get there and I know that's a challenge in itself.

"It's definitely going to be an exciting tournament mentally to go through."

The world number three is confident his body can hold up to the rigours of 2019's second major.

"I think I have been able to train hard enough and also got the necessary tough matches in Madrid and Rome, more than I would have liked to, but I guess we like saving match points or trying to lose with match points," Federer said.

"But no, I really feel like playing under the pressure and playing with the nerves was important for me, so I feel totally ready.

"In any grand slam of course if you can avoid tough, long matches in the beginning, it's going to increase your chances for the tournament later on.

"But I just want to get through that first round to get the campaign going. That's my focus right now, not think too far ahead."

Rafael Nadal has called for tennis to keep on evolving to "create a better show" - even if it means going against the wishes of the players.

The reigning French Open champion will begin his title defence at Roland Garros against qualifier Yannick Hanfmann.

Nadal heads into the second grand slam of 2019 in solid form, having convincingly dispatched current world number one Novak Djokovic to claim the Internazionali d’Italia title.

Several rule changes have been implemented in recent years, including the introduction of a shot clock, while the Australian Open installed a new tie-breaker format for deciding sets, though that system will not be used in Paris.

Nadal has enjoyed plenty of success under previous guidelines but is open to changes should it improve the sport for those watching on.

"There are a few things that I think will be good to change to create a better show, but I am not the one that has to have an opinion on this," Nadal told reporters on Friday.

"You cannot change things from today to tomorrow, but yes, you can say in eight years we are going to have this new rule, and you have to be ready for it.

"Honestly, the players should not have a real opinion on this, because it should be the people who run the sport.

"If you ask the players, you will never change anything. If you ask me if I want to change anything? No, of course not.

"I have had a lot of success with these rules, and if you ask a lot of good players, for sure they don't want to change, because they are having good success.

"But, of course, we need to improve, and we need to create the right show for the spectators and for the future health of our sport, and it's something that can improve."

Nadal's Rome triumph was his first title in 2019 - the 32-year-old lost to Djokovic in the Australian Open final at the start of he year - and he is confident of maintaining his form on clay as he bids for a 12th French Open crown.

"I feel I am playing well," Nadal said. "My goal is just to keep playing at that level, because there are always things I can improve."

Nick Kyrgios has withdrawn from the French Open due to illness just over a week after his meltdown in Rome.

Kyrgios was due to face Cameron Norrie in the first round at Roland Garros but pulled out of the second major of the year on Friday.

The controversial Australian last week hit the headlines yet again when he was defaulted from his match against Casper Ruud at the Internazionali d'Italia.

Kyrgios slammed his racket to the floor before launching a table onto the court after disputing a call early in the deciding set.

The world number 36 this week on Instagram stated that the French Open "sucks" compared to Wimbledon as he practiced with Andy Murray at the All England Club.

That comment came after he had slammed Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Fernando Verdasco during an appearance on the 'No Challenges Remaining' podcast.

Norrie will face a lucky loser instead in the opening round in Paris.

The Laver Cup will become an official competition on the ATP Tour calendar, the governing body of men's tennis has confirmed.

Inspired by golf's Ryder Cup, the annual event, which will take place in Geneva in 2019, started in 2017 and is backed by Roger Federer's management company TEAM8.

Team Europe and Team World face off against each other, with the Europeans having triumphed in the two editions so far.

"As I come closer to the end of my playing career, it's wonderful to know that the Laver Cup will be part of the Tour that I've dedicated more than 20 years of my life to," Federer stated in a press release.

"This partnership is a wonderful example of how the tennis family can unite to promote and grow the sport we all love."

The Laver Cup's ability to draw a global audience also played a part in the decision to add it to the Tour's calendar, according to ATP executive chairman and president Chris Kermode.

"The Laver Cup has struck a chord with fans worldwide in a very short time," said Kermode.

"It's been great to see the passionate participation of the players and the response from the fans at the sold-out events in Prague and Chicago.

"This event has great potential to reach new fans around the world, and all of us at the ATP are excited to include the Laver Cup as an official part of the ATP Tour calendar and have it featured alongside other tournaments on all our platforms."

Rafael Nadal and Simona Halep will be out to defend their French Open titles when the second grand slam of the year starts at Roland Garros on Sunday.

Nadal will have to fend off a fearsome Novak Djokovic, who is seeking to hold all four slams at once for the second time in his career, and Roger Federer if he is to extend his own record and win the trophy for a 12th time.

Halep ended her wait for a first major when she triumphed over Sloane Stephens in Paris last year. The Romanian too has plenty of elite competition, with world number one Naomi Osaka looking to emulate a Serena Williams achievement, who again has history in her sights as she attempts to tie Margaret Court's record by winning her 24th slam.

Two days out from the start of this year's battles for the Coupe des Mousquetaires and the Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen, we look at some of the best Opta facts ahead of the 2019 tournament.

 

Men's singles

- In the last 25 years only five times has the number one seed won the tournament: Nadal (2018, 2014 and 2011), Djokovic (2016) and Gustavo Kuerten (2001).

- Djokovic has not made it past the quarter-finals in his most recent two appearances at the French Open after reaching the semi-finals in his six previous tournaments, which included making four finals. 

- Federer has not appeared at the French Open since 2015 and has not reached the semi-finals of this tournament since 2012. Federer has won 20 grand slam titles but only one at Roland Garros.

- Dominic Thiem is the only player to have reached at least the semi-finals at Roland Garros in each of the past three years. He has not reached the semi-finals in any other grand slam tournament.

- Eighteen different players have won the French Open since the last time it was won by a French player (Yannick Noah in 1983).

- Gael Monfils, the highest-ranked Frenchman in the draw, has reached the quarter-finals at Roland Garros only once in the past five years (2014), after reaching that stage in three of his five previous appearances.

Women's singles

- Halep is aiming to become the first woman to win successive French Open titles since Justine Henin (2005, 2006, 2007).

- If Halep reaches the final she will be only the third player, after Henin (2005, 2006, 2007) and Maria Sharapova (2012, 2013, 2014), to play in three consecutive finals at Roland Garros since 2000. 

- Halep has not reached the quarter-finals in any of the three grand slam tournaments she has appeared in since she won the title at Roland Garros in 2018.

- Osaka is aiming to become the first woman to win three successive grand slam titles since Serena Williams, who won the 2014 US Open and then the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon in 2015.

- Osaka has won the past two grand slam tournaments (US Open and Australian Open) but has never reached the last 16 at Roland Garros.

- Williams has not won any of the past eight grand slams, with her last triumph coming at the Australian Open in 2017 – this is her longest span without a major title since 2002.

Sport is often cyclical in its nature. Periods of dominance come and go as the competitive landscape shifts in favour of differing competitors.

Novak Djokovic saw his supremacy reach its pinnacle at the 2016 French Open, but a dramatic and unexpected drop-off in form quickly followed as he struggled with a persistent elbow injury.

The 15-time grand slam champion returns to Roland Garros this year with a chance to come full circle and reaffirm his place as the leading force on the ATP Tour by holding all four grand slams simultaneously for the second time in his career. He would be just the second man to do so.

We chart Djokovic's journey from his highest point to his lowest, and potentially back again.

 

The zenith

Djokovic moved to the top of the world rankings for the third time in his career when he won Wimbledon in 2014 and it was the start of an incredible period that saw him fail to win just two of the next seven majors.

He retained his title at the All England club the following year with a final victory over Roger Federer, then a seven-time champion, to underline his status as the man to beat.

Djokovic added the 2015 US Open and started the next season by winning the Australian Open, meaning he went to Roland Garros with the chance to become first male to hold all four majors simultaneously since Rod Laver in 1969.

The Serbian may have felt his best chance to complete the career Grand Slam had passed him, having eliminated 'King of Clay' Rafael Nadal in the 2015 quarter-finals only to lose the showpiece - for the third time in his career - to Stan Wawrinka.

But with Federer opting not to play at Roland Garros amid knee and back issues and Nadal struggling with a wrist injury, Djokovic was finally able to get his hands on La Coupe des Mousquetaires.

 

The nadir

A surprise defeat to Sam Querrey in the third round at Wimbledon brought Djokovic swiftly crashing back to earth.

Although he responded by winning the Rogers Cup, he was eliminated by a returning Juan Martin del Potro in the first round of the Olympic Games, lost the US Open final to Wawrinka and was beaten at the ATP Finals by Andy Murray, who consequently ended 2016 as world number one.

Djokovic split with coach Boris Becker and got rid of the rest of his team after being humiliated by Denis Istomin in the second round of the Australian Open – his earliest grand slam exit since 2008.

The appointment of Andre Agassi, someone who managed to continue winning majors after completing the career Grand Slam, failed to spark a recovery in his form and he retired from a Wimbledon quarter-final against Tomas Berdych due to an elbow injury, which ended up curtailing his season.

Djokovic underwent surgery on his elbow after losing to Hyeon Chung in the fourth round at the 2018 Australian Open and continued to struggle upon his return, failing to get beyond the third round at Indian Wells, Miami, Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid.

Although Marian Vajda had been brought back into his team, his lowest ebb came with a quarter-final loss to Marco Cecchinato at the French Open. A disconsolate Djokovic was at a loss to explain his slump after the high experienced at Roland Garros just two years prior and suggested he could skip the grass-court season.

 

The return

His decision to persevere in the wake of that humbling loss proved pivotal.

Djokovic reached the final at Queen's before finally ending his grand slam drought at Wimbledon, a sensational five-set victory over Nadal in a semi-final that spanned two days making it clear he was back at his best.

The Serbian revealed that a five-day hike with his wife in the French Alps after his defeat to Cecchinato had helped him "recalibrate", and he looked unstoppable as he beat Federer in straight sets in the final at Cincinnati before winning the US Open.

He returned to the top of the rankings for the first time in just over two years in November 2018 and a ruthless straight-sets triumph against Nadal wrapped up this year's Australian Open.

Having triumphed in Madrid and reached the final in Rome, where he took Nadal to three sets despite being bagelled in the first, he now has an opportunity to complete an incredible story and become only the second man to hold all four majors on two separate occasions.

World number five Alexander Zverev advanced to the last four at the Geneva Open with a three-set win over Hugo Dellien on Thursday.

Zverev, who has been drawn in the same quarter as Novak Djokovic at the French Open, came out a 7-5 3-6 6-3 winner in Switzerland.

The top seed was taken the distance by Bolivian star Dellien but was pleased with the nature of his display in the quarter-finals.

"I played very aggressive in the important moments, very, very aggressive," said Zverev. "Also in break points down, I played very aggressive.

"This is finally something I was looking for in the last few weeks, months, and today I think I showed it."

Zverev will face Federico Delbonis in the semi-finals. Delbonis had knocked out defending champion Marton Fucsovics in the last 16 and then defeated Albert Ramos Vinolas.

Radu Albot and Nicolas Jarry, both straight-set winners, make up the other semi-final.

At the Lyon Open, Nikoloz Basilashvili downed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-4 6-4, but second seed Roberto Bautista Agut was beaten Taylor Fritz.

There were contrasting results for the young Canadian stars in action, too.

Felix Auger Aliassime beat Steve Johnson, but Denis Shapovalov lost to Benoit Paire.

Rafael Nadal's bid for a 12th French Open title has seen him put in the same half of the draw as Roger Federer at Roland Garros.

The men's draw was conducted on Thursday and Nadal, who has only twice lost at the only clay-court major, will begin his campaign against a qualifier.

Two further qualifiers are potential second-round opponents, with Kei Nishikori the first possible top-10 seed he could face in the last eight.

Twenty-time grand slam champion Federer, Stefanos Tsitsipas – who knocked Nadal out of the Madrid Open – and 2015 winner Stan Wawrinka represent potential semi-final opposition.

Nadal and Federer will consequently not meet either world number one Novak Djokovic or dangerous clay-court star Dominic Thiem until the final.

Djokovic will begin against Hubert Hurkacz and a crunch quarter-final could await, with Alexander Zverev in that section of the draw, along with Monte Carlo Masters champion Fabio Fognini.

Thiem lost in the final to Nadal last year and faces wildcard Tommy Paul to start.

Novak Djokovic will be motivated to prove he can beat Rafael Nadal on clay as he seeks to dethrone the Spaniard in the French Open, according to former champion Juan Carlos Ferrero.

Nadal heads to Roland Garros seeking to extend his own record and win a 12th title on the red dirt in Paris.

Djokovic is one of only three plays to interrupt his reign at the tournament, doing so in 2016 by beating Andy Murray in the final, and will hold all four slams for the second time in his career if he regains the Coupe de Mousquetaires.

However, the Serbian lost each of his two French Open finals against Nadal in 2012 and 2014 and has won only seven of his 24 matches on clay during their long-standing rivalry, losing to the Spaniard in the final in Rome last weekend.

And Ferrero, a two-time finalist at Roland Garros, where he triumphed in 2003, believes Djokovic's bad record against Nadal on the surface will further fuel his desire to claim the title again.

Ferrero told Omnisport: "I think when the matches are up to five sets, Rafa is the main candidate if he is at 100 per cent. You need to constantly be at your highest level over a long time in order to beat Rafa on clay; over two, two and a half hours. 

"Rafa is aware of that and is able to take advantage of it. There are a few players who can do it, but there are some who need to have more confidence.

"Many players, when they play Rafa Nadal at Roland Garros, they arrive on the court a bit demotivated. And when things go a bit wrong, they know they're going to lose. 

"I think [Dominic] Thiem has more experience this year after playing the final last year and winning the Barcelona Open this season. You also have to put Djokovic on that list, and obviously the magician and undeniably the biggest talent, Roger [Federer].

"If he reaches full fitness, I am sure he will have a chance.

"[Djokovic] is very motivated. His goal is winning grand slams right now. He has already played an outstanding tournament at the Australian Open, especially remarkable was the amazing final he played [against Nadal]. 

"He will be at 100 per cent during Roland Garros, very motivated and trying to beat Rafa at a grand slam on clay. He's already had some chances, taking Rafa to the limit, at five sets.

"I'm sure he wants to prove he's not just able to beat Rafa on grass or a hard surface, but also on clay, he can beat him."

The world of tennis will descend upon Paris this weekend for the start of the French Open.

Novak Djokovic has an opportunity to become just the second man to hold all four major titles on two separate occasions at Roland Garros, but Rafael Nadal is always a leading contender for success on clay.

There is no clear-cut favourite in the women's draw, though Naomi Osaka can win a third straight grand slam and consequently match a feat only previous achieved by seven women in the Open Era.

Ahead of the tournament, three Omnisport writers put their necks on the line and share their picks for glory.

 

JON FISHER

My women's tip: Simona Halep

Halep will return to Paris seeking to become just the sixth woman to retain her crown at Roland Garros in the Open Era. The Romanian claimed her maiden grand slam title 12 months ago after beating Sloane Stephens in a three-set final and comes back as favourite despite a mixed start to 2019. She reached the final of the Madrid Open – losing to Kiki Bertens – but made a second-round exit a few days later in Rome. Halep has proved she has the game and the temperament to win on the biggest stage, though, and, in what appears a wide-open event, can be backed to emerge victorious once again.

My men's tip: Novak Djokovic

Nadal's inconsistent clay-court performances in 2019 have given renewed hope to a pack forever in the slipstream of the relentless Spaniard. Nadal did edge out Djokovic in the Rome final, but the Serbian is unquestionably the most likely to capitalise should the draw open up. Djokovic's sole triumph at Roland Garros came in 2016 but the four-time finalist is in good form – a runner-up finish at the Foro Italico coming after victory in the Madrid Open.

Ones to watch: Belinda Bencic and Fabio Fognini

Bencic has re-emerged as a major player on the WTA Tour after a rankings slump caused by injury and a dramatic loss of form. The Swiss does not fear reputations, evidenced by her Rogers Cup success which saw her beat four top-10 players as a prodigiously talented 18-year-old in 2015. Having regained her mojo, Bencic beat world number one Naomi Osaka en route to the semi-finals of the Madrid Open in May. Now 15th in the world, she could go deep if the favourites falter.

Bencic's reputation as a dangerous floater on the women's side is matched on the men's by Fognini. The enigmatic Italian holds most matches on his racket depending on his mood. A woeful defeat to 101-ranked Jiri Vesely in his clay-court season opener in Marrakech in April was followed just a week later by victory at the Monte Carlo Masters – a run that saw him beat Nadal in the semis. Whether he can wake up on the right side of the bed every day for a fortnight in Paris remains to be seen, but he has the game to challenge the world's best.

PETER THOMPSON

My women's tip: Kiki Bertens

Bertens made great strides last season and has gone from strength to strength this year. The 27-year-old from the Netherlands moved up to a career-high fourth in the rankings after beating French Open champion Halep in the final of the Madrid Open this month. Bertens also demonstrated her clay-court pedigree with runs to the last four in Stuttgart and Rome. She reached the semi-finals at Roland Garros three years ago and is much improved since then, packing a punch with her potent forehand and developing her all-round game to become a serious grand slam contender.

My men's tip: Rafael Nadal

Nadal has not been as dominant as usual on clay this season, but normal service was resumed when he claimed a first title of the year in Rome. The 'King of Clay' struck a big psychological blow by defeating Djokovic at the Foro Italico to be crowned champion in the Eternal City for the ninth time. Court Philippe-Chatrier was knocked down after the legendary Spaniard lifted the Coupe des Mousquetaires for an 11th time last year and, fitness permitting, the world number two will take some stopping as he aims to demolish his rivals yet again at Roland Garros.

Ones to watch: Sloane Stephens and Stefanos Tsitsipas

Stephens looked set to inflict more heartbreak on Halep last year before the Romanian came storming back to end her wait for an elusive major title. The 2017 US Open champion reached the quarter-finals and semi-finals in her first two clay-court tournaments of the season and is more than capable of banishing the memories of her defeat in the final 12 months ago.

Greek sensation Tsitsipas surged to a career-high sixth in the rankings after he was beaten by Nadal in the semi-finals in Rome following a loss to Djokovic in the final in Madrid. The fearless 20-year-old produced his best showing at a major when he reached the last four of the Australian Open in January and can ruffle more feathers on the red stuff in the French capital.

 

TOM WEBBER

My women's tip: Karolina Pliskova

Despite starting the season with glory in Brisbane, Pliskova's season has been blighted by illness since she lost the Miami Open final to Ashleigh Barty in March. After disappointing displays in Stuttgart and Madrid, Pliskova became just the third player to win multiple WTA Tour titles this year with success at the Internazionali d'Italia. The Czech - a semi-finalist at Roland Garros in 2017 - may not have had to beat a single seed in Rome, but she is the form player heading to Paris and, with a strong record on clay in recent years, has a great opportunity to break her major duck.

My men's tip: Rafael Nadal

Since Nadal lifted the Coupe des Mousquetaires for the first time in 2005, he has only failed to triumph at Roland Garros on three occasions. No man has dominated a single tournament in the Open Era, let alone a major, in the manner of Nadal at the French Open. Although his performances on clay this season have not been as impressive as in past years and he considers Djokovic to be the favourite for success in Paris, the world number two looks in decent shape to claim an unprecedented 12th title after his victory over the Serbian in Rome.

Ones to watch: Serena Williams and Dominic Thiem

It is a rare thing for Williams to head to a major as an outsider for success, but that is the case at the French Open. Margaret Court's all-time record of 24 grand slam triumphs continues to hang over her but the 37-year-old has made two major finals since her return from giving birth and the complications that followed in September 2017. A troublesome knee caused her to pull out of a second-round match against sister Venus in Rome, but she should not be overlooked as a contender for the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen.

Thiem has consistently proven a strong competitor on clay – all but four of his titles on the ATP Tour have been claimed on the surface. He scored a big win over Nadal en route to the trophy at the Barcelona Open in April and, although he fell to Fernando Verdasco in the second round in Rome, he has reached at least the semi-finals at Roland Garros in each of the past three years. The world number four will be keen to improve on his final defeat to Nadal last year and bring about his major breakthrough.

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